The first round of funding under the 2007 bill was delayed because the
regulations prioritized counties that agreed to create halfway houses to help
inmates reintegrate into society. Thirteen counties initially committed to
building halfway houses but ran into so much community opposition that they had
to rescind their applications for state funding, according to the Legislative
Another major problem was the state's reliance on lease-revenue bonds, a borrowing method that avoids the political pitfall of asking voters to pay for jail construction but adds layers of state review that sheriffs blame for tying up funds.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the Public Works Board, the Department of Finance and the Board of State and Community Corrections all have a say in the projects, along with counties that each have different processes for construction projects, Hill said.
Six projects -- almost a third of all those selected -- remain in "conditional" status because they have not met all of the state's requirements. As a result, they don't have estimated completion dates.
Donald Specter, director of the Prison Law Office, gives the state's efforts mixed reviews. The Prison Law Office represents inmates in the federal lawsuit against the state and has filed two lawsuits alleging similar poor conditions in jails in Riverside and Fresno counties.
He's opposed to adding jail beds to the overall total. Fewer people need to be held in jails prior to trial and more need to be sentenced in ways that don't involve incarceration, such as GPS monitoring, he said.
On the other hand, some improvements are needed at county jails, he said. "Some of the jails are old and antiquated and need to be closed."
Specter also supports the focus of the latest jail construction funds: to provide more mental health and rehabilitation services.
Addressing county complaints, state officials in 2011 revamped procedures for awarding jail construction funds. Rather than prioritize counties that created halfway houses, they chose to fund counties that had sent the most criminals to prison, recognizing that the same counties were also likeliest to need more jail space after the state began redirecting inmates their way in 2011.
San Mateo County lost its award when it couldn't locate a re-entry facility next to its jail. The county, which ranked 12th in the state for prisoners, did not send enough inmates to prison to qualify for funding under the new requirements.
Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, has tried unsuccessfully to get the Legislature to revise the selection criteria so his county can get some of the funding.
He argues that money should go to counties that are ready to build, such as San Mateo. "The point is to build jails to house inmates and not one jail has been built," the senator said. "We keep tying their hands."
Sacramento County, which ranked seventh in the state for sending offenders to prison, did not receive an award under the new guidelines. The awards were given by county size, and Sacramento finished behind Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange counties in the large-county category.
Curtis Hill of the Board of State and Community Corrections said some smaller counties have greater needs.
He will recommend that most of the $80 million remaining in the 2007 program -- the result of San Joaquin County returning its award -- go to Monterey County, which previously received a partial award for its planned $80 million project.
(c)2013 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)
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