Redwood City resident and inmate Casaundra* will complete her sentence at the Women’s Correctional Facility shortly and won’t see the insides of the new County jail. But the Hope Inside transitional program at the current facility will continue helping inmates like Casaundra transition to the world outside the fences once it moves to the new site.
“We get positive reminders and tools with how to deal with our situation,” she said. “Like the tai chi class helps keep me focused on what’s important.”
The 4.8 acre new jail site will provide much-needed space for correctional programs as well as 1400 beds. Currently, the Women’s Correctional Facility on Maple Street holds a “communal room” that crams as many as ten programs in there at once. Women are folding laundry, some are taking academic tests, all while counselors are trying to give one-on-one advice to inmates.
“The women have to live and work in such cramped quarters that they get on each other’s nerves and sometimes fights break out,” said Women’s Correctional Center worker Jessica Caballero.
Construction of the facility began in 1976, and it was already outdated by 1980, according to Caballero. Women sleep in three-tier bunk beds, and in one dormitory, there are three showers for 35 women. Visiting rooms are cramped quarters with a small table and two chairs. A mother of five children had to break up her visit and see two of her children one day and three another day.
“These are deplorable conditions,” Sheriff Greg Munks said. “This is a tribute to the staff who is making the best out of a bad situation.”
At the new facility, women will have actual rooms to spend time with their children and not behind scratched glass with speakers that barely work.
Debra Keller, the jail’s program manager, said new programs will comprehensively address the needs of these women and recognize the differences in the way men and women need treatment. Eighty-nine percent of the inmates of the Women’s Correctional Facility have substance abuse problems.
Ruby Cvetan-Ross, a licensed marriage and family therapist with the Service League of San Mateo, provides life skills for women in the Hope Inside program.
“We provide different coping skills for each woman,” Cvetan-Ross said. “Because each one of them has a unique situation.”
But the new jail to house these programs will come with a hefty price tag. Neither Munks nor Supervisor Adrienne Tissier could put an exact cost on it, but the grand total could be as much as $155 million. Factors like the design of the building weigh in on the final amount.
Munks said they were looking at lease revenue bonds of $100 million to fund the construction as well as the recently purchased Circle Way property.
“When people ask if we can afford it, I say we can’t afford not to build this,” Munks said. “There’s never been a cheaper time to build.”
He said packing in any more inmates could lead to state violations for overcrowding and disparate treatment of inmates. “Then rather than building 68 more beds, a judge could decide we need 1,000 beds.”
AB 900 no longer allows counties to send prisoners to Sacramento, so the County will now have to find space to house them. But the money usually sent to the state to house the inmates will stay here.
“But whatever happens, it won’t be good for us,” Munks said.
But since 2007 at the county's first summit on women's jail issues, Tissier has been working with law enforcement agencies and nonprofits around the county to continue supporting treatment programs.
“We will expand our successes to the new facility,” Tissier said. “This is a great opportunity for these women to do better in society.”
*Note: Casaundra requested to withhold her last name and the charge that she is serving for.