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Other counties counting on Paso facility

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Officials from Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and San Benito counties will go before a state prison review panel Sept. 18 to convince the state to fund the construction of a tri-counties “prisoner re-entry facility” in Paso Robles.

The idea behind the facility is to address the high rate at which released state prisoners commit new crimes. The facility would offer drug treatment and job training, for example

If the project gets built, all three counties would receive millions of dollars in conditional grants from the state to subsidize local jail projects.

The incentive has garnered ample support from officials in all three counties, including county supervisors and sheriffs Bill Brown (Santa Barbara County), Pat Hedges (San Luis Obispo County), and Curtis Hill (San Benito County).

Officials in Paso Robles, however, aren’t convinced.

On Aug. 28, Paso Robles Police Chief Lisa Solomon and Paso Robles City Councilmen Duane Picanco, Fred Strong, and John Hamon attended a town hall meeting to discuss concerns about the project with the community.

At the top of the list of concerns was the possibility of the city being flooded with prisoners released from the facility.

Assembly Bill 900—also known as the Public Safety and Offender Rehabilitation Services Act of 2007—requires that prisoners be released to the county they lived in prior to being incarcerated. Prisoners who committed crimes anywhere in San Luis Obispo County, therefore, wouldn’t have to be returned to the city in which the crimes were committed.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Commander Tom Jenkins said that Paso Robles officials have no need to worry about transportation because both Santa Barbara and San Benito counties are committed to bringing their prisoners home.

“We’re not ready to endorse [the facility],” Solomon said in a recent phone interview. “Everyone’s going to have to stand by and see what transpires over the next few weeks.”

The issue is unofficially scheduled to go before the Paso Robles City Council on Sept. 16. Until then, Solomon said that she and the city attorney are “in the process of looking into giving conditional support of the facility in time for the Sept. 18 deadline.”

Jenkins said that the county is sensitive to Paso Robles’ questions and concerns.

“Santa Barbara County is trying to be a good neighbor,” Jenkins said. “This agreement will put us in a long-term, cooperative relationship with not only San Luis Obispo and San Benito counties, but the city of Paso Robles.”

Originally, San Benito and San Luis Obispo counties had planned to build their own 250-bed facility at the site in Paso Robles. The site is made up of the Estrella Youth Correctional Facility, which shut down earlier this summer because of budget issues, and additional surrounding acreage.

Similarly, Santa Barbara County was working with CDCR to build its own facility to be housed in the new North County jail. However, a misunderstanding over who would run the facility led the county to enter into a partnership with the two neighboring counties.

According to AB 900, counties must build re-entry facilities in order to receive the grant up for grabs through the legislation. Currently, Santa Barbara County is expected to receive approximately $56.3 million in funds for the North County jail. San Luis Obispo County is expected to receive approximately $25 million to help fund a women’s jail.

If approved for construction, the state-run, 500-bed re-entry facility in Paso Robles would provide prisoners with job training and life skills during their final year of incarceration. The proposed facility and its programs would be based on the newest prison model from the state corrections system.

In the past, the stereotypical rehabilitation program in California consisted of giving released inmates $200 and a bus ticket.

“That’s exactly the mentality we’re trying to get away from,” said Gordon Hinkle, deputy press secretary for the CDCR. “We don’t want to just dump [people released from prison] in the middle of nowhere.”

Hinkle said that the main goal of the re-entry facility is to give inmates “a network of support” before they are released to help lessen their chances of re-offending.

“We want them to be confident with their abilities before they’re released back into the world,” Hinkle said.

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