County seeks state help for women's jail



County officials are planning to ask the state to help pay for a proposed $44 million women's jail at the end of Kansas Avenue, north of San Luis Obispo.

The new two-story jail would more than quadruple the current inmate capacity, creating space for 192 women, according to an environmental document on file at county offices. The project would also include a new medical facility and booking center for female inmates.

A need for expanded jail capacity for local women was first identified nearly 25 years ago. The women's jail has an average daily population of 82 inmates, although its legal capacity is just 43 inmates, the report states.

"The women's jail is overcrowded now, and there's no indication that will change. Our average daily population is increasing. Methamphetamine use has contributed significantly to the [jail] population," said Vince Morici, administrative analyst for the county.

State funding is now available for jail expansion projects under a $7.7 billion prison construction and reform package signed by the governor in May. The law authorizes bond financing for 13,000 new local jail beds in addition to 53,000 new state prison beds.

Counties throughout California will be in competition for the funding, but "the details are still sketchy," according to Morici.

Under the law, counties are required to provide local funding for 25 percent of a jail project's total cost, though the market value of land owned by the county may be considered as an "in-kind" contribution.

SLO County's plans include a new women's jail building with 48 double-bunked cells as well as an additional 48 beds in four- and eight-person cells. Six segregation cells are also included. The existing women's jail would be demolished, and a new medical clinic and programs center would be built on that site.

"We know eventually those facilities will be needed," Morici explained. "State bond funding is not available too often."

But a recently identified $20 million shortfall in the county budget may make it more difficult for the county to find the required matching funds.

"The budget shortfall has the potential to put this on the back burner," Morici said.

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