Opponents of plans for a new, larger jail to ease overcrowding and replace the dilapidated women’s facility denounced two possible design ideas presented by the sheriff yesterday and asked supervisors to consider a third option — no jail at all.
Speakers before the Board of Supervisors said it can honor existing construction contracts and provide union jobs by building mental health and drug rehab facilities rather than a jail. Many vowed to fight a proposed sales tax measure for county services because they believe it was suggested to fund the jail’s operating costs and several said the programs and services planned for the jail could be better provided in the community.
The Chemical Way site in Redwood City purchased for the jail also came under fire as a "toxic waste dumpsite.”
"If it can’t have housing, why can it have prisoners for years?” asked Tom Winebarger.
The supervisors did not directly address the crowd’s concerns but told Sheriff Greg Munks they liked aspects of the two possible designs he shared yesterday, particularly as they relate to transitional housing and unfinished space known as a warm shell.
But speaker James Lee, an organizer with Occupy, said terms like "warm shell” and the need to replace the deplorable women’s jail should not be used to make the plan more palatable.
"These are all just ways to gild the cage,” Lee said.
Currently, the new 576-bed jail is expected to open in 2015 with a roughly $155 million construction price tag followed by $25 million to $27 million in annual operating expenses
Ground broke in June and jail planners and architects are narrowing down a design.
The first option is a low-rise building configuration with administrative/support services on the ground floor and inmate housing above. The second possibility is a mid-rise building configuration with administrative/support services in a two-story structure separate from inmate housing which will be located in a three-story building.
Munks and several members of the board said they favor the second option. Both designs separate male and female inmates and take into consideration the needs of inmates with longer or extended stay lengths under the state realignment. Realignment shifted some low-level offenders from state prison to county jails and kept some convicts local rather than sending them to prison.
Board President Adrienne Tissier will soon appoint two supervisors to a subcommittee to talk about what the warm shell space can look like and how community-based organizations can be expanded in the jail to make the best use of precious dollars. She also said those discussions will be shaped in part by learning more about the impacts of realignment of which a year update is due this fall.
"You don’t want to do things and then find out you don’t have the space to do it,” Tissier said.
But while the jail planners push ahead, opponents like those yesterday hoisting signs like "Schools not jails” and "Hope not jails” say there’s still time for reconsideration.
"It’s not too late to put the brakes on this new jail,” said Linnea Nelson, a criminal justice and drug policy fellow with the American Civil Liberties Union.
Michelle Durand can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.