New jail talks make county supes squeamish



It’s not often local politicians shy away from millions of dollars in state funds in the name of public safety, but San Luis Obispo County supervisors decided to hold off on a $36.4-million expansion of the county women’s jail.

On a 4-1 vote at the Sept. 21 Board of Supervisors meeting (Supervisor Katcho Achadjian voted against the majority), county supervisors decided to delay moving forward on the project until a strategic planning session scheduled for February.

Citing worries that the state may not come through with $25.1 million promised to the county, a bleeding local budget likely unable to supplement the bill with $10 million in matching funds, ongoing staffing costs to the county, and philosophical worries about shelving prisoners rather than treating them, a majority of supervisors elected to hold off before pumping more money into the design.

“In this state, we have this growing empire of incarceration, and I guess I’m somewhat reluctant to add to it,” Supervisor Adam Hill said.

If built, the new women’s jail would add 155 beds to relieve overcrowding at the existing 48-bed facility. Law enforcement officials said the jail has an average daily population of about 73 inmates.

SLO County was one of 11 jurisdictions selected to receive a portion of $1.2 billion in state funds under Assembly Bill 900 to build more housing for local inmates. But the legislation was crafted in 2006, before the economy and state budget imploded. As of press time, state legislators had yet to approve a budget and close a roughly $20 billion deficit.

Supervisors worried that the AB 900 funding could be pulled out from under them and were further unsettled by the fact that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger—who has been supportive of the legislation and a platform of treatment over incarceration—will be replaced in 2011.

County supervisors were supportive of expanding the jail, but decided to wait for more information.

“I agree with the standpoint that we should move cautiously forward,” Supervisor Frank Mecham said.

The board also approved plans to expand the county Juvenile Services Center. That project would add 45 beds, 15 of which would be “treatment beds.” The treatment aspect seemed to win over supervisors skeptical of the women’s jail proposal. The $17.45 million project, including a $3.1 million county match, was approved quickly and unanimously.

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