Jail expansion is largest project in Stanislaus County history

08/15/2014 8:28 PM

08/16/2014 9:04 AM

Local and state officials and dignitaries gathered Friday to kick off the largest capital project launched by Stanislaus County government.

Builders will pour tons of concrete for two maximum-security units adding 480 jail beds at the Public Safety Center on Hackett Road in west Ceres, with the expansion including a medical and mental health wing for inmates.

But the aggressive building campaign is not all about incarceration.

A day reporting center will provide a setting for former inmates to meet with probation officers, have their service needs assessed and learn job skills to help them change their ways. The third piece is a support facility for intake, release and transportation of prisoners.

Total cost: $113 million.

Patty Hill Thomas, the county’s chief operating officer, expects work to start on the day reporting center in a month. The county hopes to complete the facilities at the Hackett Road center in late 2016.

The expansion is made possible by the state’s jail construction financing program coinciding with public safety realignment. In California, criminal justice places a new emphasis on reforming lower-level offenders instead of locking them in state prisons. The county will cap the current expansion with 288 beds of transitional jail housing in a $44 million re-entry facility, which will have classrooms and resources for inmates who are within a year of release.

The state awarded $80 million to the county for the jail expansion and $40 million for the re-entry center. The balance of the funding comes from local sources.

Anyone can speculate whether county government’s conservative leaders are serious about the goals of realignment. County officials long have recognized the need for additional jail beds, but funding never was available for building the space. Those plans got a boost from Assembly Bill 900, which created $7.4 billion in lease-revenue bonds for construction to relieve state prison overcrowding, expand county jail space and provide health facilities for inmates.

The new jail beds could enable the Sheriff’s Department to vacate the antiquated men’s jail in downtown Modesto, removing a liability for the county.

Dozens of groups have protested prison and jail expansions in Sacramento and Southern California, but the Stanislaus County project has not met with opposition.

Vonya Quarles has organized rallies against the addition of jail beds in Riverside County. “It is good for jobs and the builders, but the outcome of jail expansion has been nothing but failure,” said Quarles, an organizer for All of Us or None. “It costs $52,000 a year to put someone in county jail. That would be better spent on mental health services, substance-abuse treatment or early education. I think we would get better results.”

Jill Silva, chief probation officer for Stanislaus County, said at Friday’s ceremony that programs are changing the lives of criminal offenders. The new jail facilities will come with services for those struggling with mental health issues, substance abuse and addiction.

Much of Friday’s ceremony was devoted to thanking county staff and many others who brought the massive project to fruition. In a moment of levity, Hill Thomas presented Sheriff Adam Christianson with protective headgear – shaped as a Western hat – for wearing on the construction site.

The infusion of state money creates business for the construction industry. Hensel Phelps of San Jose will construct the maximum-security units and support facilities under contracts totaling $82.6 million. The county awarded a $4.4 million contract for Simile Construction of Modesto to build the probation reporting center.

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