County explores ways to alleviate overcrowded jails

Two short-term solutions to the county’s overcrowded jails are being considered after the packed prisons have been decried in grand jury reports and recognized by state prison authorities.

Two solutions are being mulled as San Mateo’s detention facilities operate at 143 percent of capacity, and the women’s jail functions at 171 percent: the reopening of a closed jail in La Honda and the creation a pilot program for 40 women prisoners in South San Francisco.

The initiatives will be considered by supervisors at a study session Tuesday in an attempt to deal with the overflow of inmates until a new jail can be built — a project that will not break ground for at least another five years, according to supervisors.

One possible solution, said Assistant Sheriff Greg Trindle, is to temporarily reopen the county’s medium-security facility in La Honda for the next five or six years, or until the county builds a new, larger jail for both men and women on the site of the women’s jail in Redwood City. The La Honda facility would house 200 inmates, Trindle said.

Renovating and repairing the La Honda jail would cost between $500,000 and $800,000, with an operating cost of about $5 million a year, according to Sheriff’s Office estimates.

On Tuesday, Sheriff Greg Munks will also recommend a pilot program to ease overcrowding at the women’s jail, which the 2006 grand jury called “a crowded disgrace.”

The proposal would relocate as many as 40 women into an intensive, gender-specific rehabilitation program in the North County Correctional Facility in the South San Francisco court and probation complex. Renovating the space would cost an estimated $609,380, and the ongoing costs will be an estimated $2.18 million. That program is also expected to operate for five to six years.

The supervisors will also discuss applying for state funding for jail construction through AB900 — the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Services Act of 2007. But the monies do not come without obligations, Supervisor Mark Church said. In order to be selected for the funding, counties must be willing to partner with the state to place a prison re-entry facility within its borders. The locked rehabilitation unit would house up to 500 inmates.

Each of the recommendations must come back before the Board of Supervisors at a regular meeting before any formal action is taken.

tbarak@examiner.com

San Mateo County jail overcrowding

Current conditions

» Overall capacity: 834 beds

» Average daily population, 2007: 1,200 inmates

» Men’s facilities: 143% capacity

» Women’s facilities: 171% capacity

Who is in jail?

Male inmates

» Local residents: 75%

» Most common offense: Personal drug use and possession

»Most common drug used: Methamphetamine

» Probation violators: 38%

» Employed: 60%

» Earned a GED, high school diploma or college degree: 60%

» Mentally ill: 33%

» No fixed address: 25%

Female inmates

» Nonviolent offenders: 88%

» Reporting severe alcohol or drug problems: 80%

» Inmates who have never received substance abuse treatment: 47%

»Responsible for young children: More than 50%

Source: Detention Facilities Needs Assessment and Master Plan (January 2008)

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