A closer look at Stanislaus County’s $90 million jail expansion

County leaders were struck by the size of a $90 million jail expansion at the Public Safety Center on Hackett Road but stressed the facility will do more than warehouse inmates under the state’s public safety realignment.

The nearly completed facility covers 180,000 square feet, with a half-mile corridor connecting the different sections.

Stanislaus County supervisors were given a tour Tuesday of an expansion that could test the statewide initiative, which made counties responsible for lower-level offenders who previously were sent to state prisons.

Officials said the 480-bed maximum-security facility, along with a 288-bed re-entry center under construction nearby, are the first projects being built through state bills to help counties fulfill the goals of realignment.

The expansion will augment the Public Safety Center with a 72-bed medical and mental health wing, and health and dental clinics. When the nearby Re-Entry and Enhanced Alternatives to Custody Training center, or REACT, is completed in early 2018, the county will have facilities to help inmates overcome addictions and break the cycle of crime.

“It is very impressive,” Supervisor Bill O’Brien said. “The medical and mental health component is what really sets it apart.”

Sheriff Adam Christianson said he expects to begin staff training in November and launch a phased opening of the new jail cells in March. The jail expansion is not expected to reach full capacity for three or four years, the sheriff said.

Statewide realignment has made the county responsible for about 1,600 people on post-release supervision, he said.

In the last three years, about $160 million has been invested in facilities at the Hackett Road complex for incarceration, programming and probation, with the state contributing about 75 percent of the funding.

The jail expansion and REACT center will boost jail capacity to more than 2,150 beds and enable the county to stop housing up to 396 inmates at the antiquated downtown jail in Modesto. When the downtown jail is taken out of service, the county will have a 1,758-bed capacity, up from the current 1,492.

Christianson said the downtown jail will still serve as a holding facility for the 150 inmates daily set for court appearances. The old jail building will no longer have a purpose if or when a new courthouse is built in Modesto, he said.

Sheriff’s Lt. Steve Traverso served as tour guide Tuesday at the Hackett Road complex, showing the new booking area and temporary holding rooms for up to five inmates.

Traverso said the safety cells have padded walls for psychotic inmates who are acting out; other cells have padded floors for sleeping off a bender.

Officials expect to house far more male inmates than women. In August, female inmates made up 12 percent of the population at the Public Safety Center.

State prisons were held liable by the courts for a lack of health care and mental health treatment for inmates. The county jail will soon care for sick inmates in sheltered medical beds, will have examination and treatment rooms and have the ability to provide in-house radiology services. The Sheriff’s Department will contract with an outside firm for health services.

The department expects to reduce its costs for guarding sick or injured inmates taken to hospitals. The extra jail capacity will provide more flexibility for holding inmates for more counseling or program services instead of releasing them.

Some counties in California were not interested in the state construction funding authorized in Assembly Bill 900, Senate Bill 1022 or SB 863, mainly because of the expense of operating jails.

Stanislaus is facing annual costs of $14 million for operating the expansion at full capacity. That would require around 200 people working in different aspects of jail operations, including 112 sheriff’s staff members, Christianson said.

Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321