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County approves staffing plan for expanded jail
West Ceres facility to be opened in phases
jail pic
Construction on the new Stanislaus County jail in west Ceres is about 80 percent complete. The first phase is expected to open in March. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/The Journal

The county is crafting the move into the new $89.5 million expansion of the Public Safety Center being constructed in west Ceres in phases based on need and on the availability of money.

The project is about 80 percent completed and plans are to open 120 beds in March of next year.

The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors gave its blessings at its May 18 meeting for a plan to staff the expanded jail with its 480 additional jail beds and 57-bed medical and mental health unit with 15 sheltered hospital beds at the Hackett Road facility. The plan includes staffing for an intake, release, transportation and jail administration building.

Once the new jail is fully operational, the old downtown Modesto jail will be abandoned. The project will also expand the county's number of jail cells.

"The culture of the jail population has changed dramatically over the past five years," Sheriff's Department Captain William "Bill" Duncan told supervisors. "Since the enactment of AB 109 in October 2011 we now have a longer term, high-security inmate with a much higher prevalence for mental illness and with limited access to health-care and rehabilitative programs. Despite a brief respite from the overpopulation and substantial early custody releases from Proposition 47, we are once again early releasing inmates due to jail overcrowding and an escalation of crime in our communities."

The county broke ground on the jail project in the summer of 2014 after becoming the first in the state to snag AB 900 Phase II funds, also known as the Local Jail Construction Financing Program established by the State Public Works Board. The $113 million project is being covered by $80 million funded through the state grant. The county hired Hensel Phelps to construct two maximum security units, a health care unit, and support facilities.

Strings attached to the funding do not require that the county fully staff the new jail but the county must open part of the jail within 90 days of completion of construction.

"The earliest opportunity to fully staff and operate the new facilities would occur in 2018-19, based on budget and the Board of Supervisors' consideration of plans to move forward," noted a staff report from the county Chief Executive Officer's office to supervisors.

The staffing model being used by the county details that an additional 111 positions will be needed to staff the fully-utilized jail.

The county is planning a two-cycle recruitment, hiring, training, and placement of 32 new full-time deputies and transferring 21 existing positions to be on staff when the first 120 beds open up in March 2017. The first year of operations will cost $5 million, covered by $3.3 million from the county's general fund and $1.92 million from the state.

By the second year, an additional 78 new positions will be the main expense associated with operating the new facility. The county expects second-year operations - when 240 more jail beds are made available - to cost $12.5 million. When the jail is fully operational by 2018-19, the county expects costs to reach $18 million. Funding will come from the county's general fund and the Community Corrections Partnership, an agency born out of prison realignment when the state took lower-level offenders out of state custody and made them the responsibility of the county.

Supervisors approved the use of $650,000 for supplies and equipment out of a $2 million left over in the budget for the jail expansion.

To minimize the number of new deputies needed, the county negotiated with the union representing custodial deputies to work 12-hour shifts, said project manager Patty Hill Thomas.

Because the recruitment cycle takes about 37 weeks and nine weeks of on-the-job training, the county is already moving on new hires. Six-week CORE training academy classes have been scheduled to begin in early July, October, and March 2017 and July 2017. Applicants will undergo physical agility testing, a written exam, oral exam and personal history statement review/interview is completed which takes approximately eight weeks. If an applicant is successful through all of these tests, a thorough background investigation is completed that includes computer voice stress analysis and psychological and medical examinations which takes an additional 10 to 12 weeks. Applicants who successfully complete this rigorous testing and background process are hired and immediately begin the training program.

The county is also renegotiating its contract with California Forensic Medical Group for expanded medical services to inmates. It's expected for the county's costs for medical services will hit $1.8 million at full occupancy.

Duncan said the new facility will centralize and streamline booking of male and female inmates, provide minimum and maximum security housing and access to physical and mental health services "in a unique custom designed clinic and healthcare unit."

The larger jail will allow the county to change the way it handles inmates. Due to budget shortages since 2009, the county has closed 434 inmate beds and resorted to assigning inmates to alternative work programs for sentencing. In 2011, only 19 percent of the county's inmate population was serving a jail sentence. The additional beds will allow the county to handle the greater influx of inmates that resulted when the state shifted more of the burden from overcrowded state prisons.

The county will next embark on the SB 1022 project for the 288-bed Re-entry and Enhanced Alternatives to Custody Training (REACT) Center "with the ultimate goal of providing a continuum of rehabilitative programs for inmates from reception to aftercare in partnership with our friends at the Probation Department and the Day Reporting Center," said Duncan. The goal of the program is to reduce recidivism and encourage former inmates in being more productive citizens.

Under AB 900, the state provides 90 percent of the cost for new jail construction. Over 20 counties have successfully applied for project money and Stanislaus County is the only county that has started construction.