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Jail operating tab will cost $68 per capita

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POSTED July 23, 2009 2:05 a.m.

 It is going to cost $68 annually for every man, woman, and child to cover the cost of operating the proposed expansion of the San Joaquin County Jail.

That is the verdict of the Joint City/County Criminal Justice Task Force charged with coming up with ways to fund the expanded jail once it is built.

The county jail has been inadequate in terms of capacity for years forcing judges to release many inmates much earlier than their sentences. At the same time, criminals – unless they are accused of a violent crime – are often simply booked and turned lose often beating the police officers who arrested them back on the street as the cops are required to fill out paperwork.

San Joaquin County has been allocated $80 million from Assembly Bill 900 to build the jail. If the county builds the jail and it is not occupied within 45 days of completion, language in the legislation allows the state to take it over to house their prisoners.

The completed jail expansion will add $47.5 million in operating costs or $68 per capita for the entire county. The three funding mechanisms being examined are a countywide sales tax slightly higher than a half cent, a parcel tax of at least $222 annually and a community facilities district.

San Joaquin County has one of the lowest jail cell ratios per 1,000 residents among California counties with 1,333 rated beds. The jail averages 1,566 inmates a day plus 1,000 on alternate work programs or home detention who — if approved for such an option — pick up the cost themselves in exchange for the privilege of not serving time behind bars.

Under the court-imposed jail limit, essentially only those who are arrested for violent crimes tend to stay in custody while those involved in misdemeanors and non-violent felonies such as burglary and auto theft are processed and released.

Even with doing that, the county has no choice but to drastically cut time off the jail sentences of those convicted and sentenced to make room for more criminals at the jail.

Sheriff Steve Moore has noted under sentencing guidelines those convicted can qualify for a reduction of 10 percent for good behavior. When the jail gets crowded, they have to go through a list of those serving time. First, they look for those who have served more than 50 percent of their sentence. They are released early and don’t have to return. Then they go down to 40 percent of time served. The sheriff’s office has been forced to drop down as far as those who have only served 20 percent of their sentence to release them back on the street so the county isn’t in violation of state laws, which could open them up to civil litigation from the criminals they incarcerate.

That means someone sentenced to a year in jail could end up serving just over two months.

San Joaquin County has received preliminary approval to secure state funds made possible by Assembly Bill 900 to expand the jail. The first phase — which the county has the matching funds for — will add 1,280 beds and cost $116 million. The second phase — if the county can match that grant as well— would cost $59.6 million —and bring jail capacity up to 2,933 beds by adding 320 more beds. By the year 2018, SJ County may end up tripling the number of beds they now have at the jail.

And that could take the county off the court-mandated cap and reduce crime.

It will cost $80 million in 2018 to run an expanded jail that could — pushing the limit— house 3,075 inmates. The two additional phases will add $47.5 million in that cost. Coming up with that additional money is now the challenge for the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail

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