A nonprofit consulting group once hired by San Mateo County to evaluate its jail re-entry program claims a planned new facility is "not justified” by the demand for public safety and will only cement major flaws already hampering the local justice system.
Alan Kalmanoff, executive director of the Berkeley-based Institute for Law and Policy Planning, speculated the county terminated its $25,000 contract with the organization after it asked questions about "serious system flaws” in the courts, probation and jail. On Friday, Kalmanoff said the group is still giving the Board of Supervisors the draft report for its Tuesday budget hearing as originally requested because it would be professionally remiss not to follow through.
County spokesman Marshall Wilson confirmed the county’s agreement with ILPP but said it was terminated because the group failed to uphold the contract requirement to focus its evaluation on the re-entry program Achieve 180 and instead pursued matters outside the scope.
"Once it became clear to the county, in its opinion, that the institute was not performing the work agreed upon in the contract and was instead pursuing a separate agenda, the county decided to terminate the contract,” Wilson said.
Achieve 180 is a federally-funded program offering support services like counseling and employment referrals to inmates considered at high to moderate risk of reoffending. The goal is preventing recidivism once they are free from custody.
Kalmanoff said the county accepted a work proposal broader than the one re-entry program but asked for it to be scaled back multiple times before ultimately ending the relationship when consultants looked at the jail classification system.
In the report’s cover letter to county supervisors, Kalmanoff said Achieve 180 should expand its caseload and link with now-competing offender programs as a way to easily avoid unneeded extra jail beds and "staggering” fiscal burdens that will accelerate the current mismanagement of the overall system. More jail beds will defeat improvement of the current system’s deficiencies, Kalmanoff wrote.
Although the plan for a new facility in Redwood City has drawn much ire from residents and anti-jail groups, Kalmanoff said ILPP is acting independently without any political motivations or connections to other opposition. In fact, he said, ILPP conducted a jail needs assessment for the county for more beds after Maguire Correctional Facility was already built and has a hand in the building of jails in many counties.
"We like to say we’re in the jail business but primarily we’re in the business of truth,” Kalmanoff said.
Currently, the new jail on Chemical Way 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. Advocates say a new jail is needed to alleviate chronic overcrowding in the men’s facility and replace a dilapidated women’s facility. The shifting of state prisoners to local facilities under realignment is also an often-cited factor.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will adopt its budget which includes $44 million for the initial jail planning and construction. Kalmanoff anticipates attending — completely unrelated to other opponents who have announced their plans to denounce the project at the meeting — but said he’s not looking to be part of any larger anti-jail movement.
"We just got caught up in something,” he said.
While the report was commissioned over a re-entry program, ILPP’s report concludes it is indicative of justice system failures that will continue in a new facility and ultimately leave taxpayers saddled with unneeded costs. Kalmanoff said consultants concluded the program was the crux of a "turf fight” between probation and behavioral health — where the funding is allocated — and that the sheriff’s desire for a new jail was "crippling” the system.
The report claims private interviews with employees and upper level staff unveiled a poorly managed criminal justice system and cited both the sheriff’s inmate classification system and the court’s restrictive pretrial release program as factors in jail overcrowding.
Competition over staff and money ramp up demand for public safety but the proposed new jail is not justified by realities, the report concludes.
Michelle Durand can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.