On Oct. 23, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors applied for a $40 million state grant in hopes of renovating its county jail.
The funds would be used for upgrades that focus on reducing recidivism rather than expanding capacity. These would include new beds for the prison’s health care facility and equipment for its aging kitchen, which, according to Yolo County sheriff Ed Prieto, is “pretty well antiquated.”
Prison officials are also seeking to build an expanded Day Reporting Center (DRC). According to Deputy County Administrator Mindi Nunes, the new DRC would provide “everything a released inmate would need to reintegrate back into society,” running the gambit from housing assistance to mental health counseling.
The funds would come from a pool of $500 million in potential bond revenue put aside for county jails by SB 1022, passed by the California State Legislature in June 2012. If the application is accepted, the county will match the grant by 10 percent, bringing the total amount of funding for the facility to $44 million.
Built in 1988, Yolo County’s Monroe Detention Center has been in need of renovation for years.
“Everything we do is 24/7; if it’s a 10-year-old facility, that’s more like 30 years from wear,” Prieto said.
This need has recently become even more pronounced as the prison attempts to cope with an influx of longer-term prisoners following the enactment of California’s realignment legislation package, AB 109 and AB 117, in Oct. 2011. This legislation was aimed at reducing the state’s overcrowded correctional system by sending new low-level offenders to local county jails instead of state prisons.
However, as many of these new inmates have longer sentences, local facilities are struggling to cope with the changes.
“The facility is overbooked,” Prieto said. “We’re like the Embassy Suites of county jails.”
In addition to overbooking, the prison is faced with meeting the changing needs of a new population of long-term prisoners. Although the prison was designed to accommodate shorter stays of a year or less, as the average term length increases, so does the number of issues the prison faces.
In one case, the prison has been tasked with accommodating an inmate with multiple sentences totaling 18 years.
Longer-term prisoners usually require greater resources in terms of medical and psychiatric care. Coupled with their lengthy residencies, this can pose a tremendous burden on prisons that don’t have the proper facilities or personnel.
Despite these challenges facing the prison, a recent Yolo County Grand Jury report on the Monroe facility found that the “staff has been creative in developing and implementing programs that adapt to inmates with longer sentences, more serious convictions and unique problems,” and that “the Center’s buildings and grounds are as well-kept and maintained as possible, considering the age and condition of this much-used facility.”
The report goes on to detail the complex challenges that many aging county jails like the Monroe facility are facing due to realignment, recommending that upgrades “be implemented as a first priority as funds become available.”
Robert Oates, a project director with the Board of State and Community Corrections acknowledges that many of these renovations for county facilities are long overdue.
“Some of these facilities are past 50 years old, and they show it,” Oates said. “So it’s time.”
Sacramento County has also applied for funding; however, due to its large size, it is able to request an increased maximum of $80 million for the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove.
According to Sgt. Lisa Bowman of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, these funds would pay for new medical and psychiatric beds at the facility as well as introduce new prison vocational offerings such as a culinary arts program.
Due to the limited amount of state funding and large numbers of county facilities facing similar challenges posed by realignment, many are saying the application process will be particularly selective.
“We’re facing some pretty stiff competition,” Nunes said. “Some counties went all-out in preparing their application, and hopefully we were one of them.”
This competition is evidenced by the 36 applications that were received by the Oct. 24 deadline, totaling more than $1.3 billion in requested funds.
“This is the largest we’ve had in years,” said Leslie Heller, a field representative from the Board of State and Community Corrections, in regard to the volume of requests coming in from counties.
“It will certainly be very competitive,” Heller said. “We knew there would be a lot of applications.”
The Board of State and Community Corrections will now send the applications to be appraised by an executive board comprised of members of law enforcement offices, counties and medical associations across the state.
“We try to get a cross section of society,” Oates said. “It’s a fair process, as much as we could make it.”
The board will rank the applications and is scheduled to announce its selections in January.