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Supes Show Support to Build New $160M Jail

Sheriff says a new jail is necessary to combat overcrowding.

A larger, new jail in Redwood City just got five more nods yesterday.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors yesterday largely supported the proposal by Sheriff Greg Munks to build a new jail in Redwood City.

A new jail is necessary in order to combat the overcrowded conditions that prisoners and guards are subjected to in the current jail facilities, according to Munks, a problem occurring statewide.

Supervisors joined Sheriff Munks in a study session Tuesday afternoon held in the County Center in Redwood City to discuss the potential size and cost of the new jail.

The current facilities house nearly 1,100 inmates on average, but are only constructed to serve a population of about 834, said Sheriff Munks.

And under an action that releases 400 prisoners from state to local facilities, the jail conditions in San Mateo County are about , said Munks.

Governor Jerry Brown decided to send non-violent prisoners currently jailed in state facilities back to local county jurisdictions in an effort to reduce state expenses related to the prison population.

The movement, called "realignment," will land the prisoners back in the laps of counties. And then local government and law enforcement will be forced to find a suitable place to house the inmates for the rest of their sentence.

Current overcrowded conditions combined with an influx of new prisoners are two of the main reasons Sheriff Munks is pushing to build a prison that could house between 768 to 832 inmates, both male and female.

Such a project could cost up to $160 million to build, and about $25 million annually to operate, according to a presentation by Sheriff Munks.

In order to provide flexibility, he suggested building a jail that initially left open a top floor. That floor would allow the prison to expand to an extra 192 cells if it is proven necessary by a growing inmate population.

But initially, the top floor is being presented as the potential home of a transitional program dedicated to helping former prisoners get their lives back on track after being released.

Only in the case of future overcrowding would the top floor be built into cells to house more inmates, said Sheriff Munks.

Last year, the county purchased 4.8 acres of land east of Highway 101 in Redwood City as a site to build the new jail.

Yesterday some Supervisors such as Rose Jacobs Gibson expressed a willingness to consider the proposal by Sheriff Munks, and others such as Supervisor Adrienne Tissier advocated to fast track its completion.

"I don't want to wait anymore," said Tissier.

Jacobs Gibson seconded Tissier's sentiment, though with not the same amount of vigor.

"I think we need to move forward," she said.

And amidst concerns that realignment may bring an influx of criminals back into the borders of San Mateo County, Supervisor Carole Groom expressed her desire to build the new facility.

"We are not a healthy community unless we are a safe community," she said. "We need a place to put people who commit bad crimes."

Supervisor Don Horsley, who is a former San Mateo County Sheriff, said he favored the jail's construction as it would provide a new source of jobs.

Perhaps the most reluctant of all was Supervisor Dave Pine, who advocated for more study before moving forward with giving consent for the project. He pointed to the county's $50 million deficit as a point of concern to address before approving building and operating a new jail.

"I think it would be wise for the board to have another study session before we move forward," said Pine.

But his fellow supervisors were reluctant to provide too much additional study time because the deadline to for the first step in the application process for a competitive grant that could provide money for the jail's construction is rapidly approaching on October 14.

As a compromise, the board decided to hold a study session early next month so long as they agreed Sheriff Munks could send in the preliminary application for the grant funding.

The board tentatively scheduled a study session for October 4, but should that date fall through, the October 18 would likely be the back-up meeting date.

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