RIVERSIDE – Riverside County supervisors today signed off on a $237 million budget for construction of a replacement jail in Indio and debated where new inmate housing could be added in the county — including a controversial site just west of Palm Springs.
The East County Detention Center, to be located adjacent to the Larson Justice Center on the site of the existing Indio jail, is slated to be built in the next few years, though a groundbreaking date remains elusive.
In a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor John Tavaglione absent, the Board of Supervisors finalized a project budget of $237 million — 60 percent of which the county will carry. The balance will be comprised of state grant funds.
The new detention center will net an additional 900 inmate beds in the county’s correctional system.
Supervisor Jeff Stone complained about the roughly $109,000 cost per bed and expressed doubts that the increased capacity would have a significant impact in the long run. He argued the county was incapable of handling current demands for jail space, and that there was no slowdown in sight.
In the month of January alone, the sheriff’s department has had to release 700 inmates to comply with a federal court decree mandating that every detainee have a cell bed, according to Undersheriff Colleen Walker.
”The mid-county jail is still the best alternative for the county to provide the capacity we’re going to need,” Stone said. ”Things are going to get worse before they get better.”
He took a swipe at Assembly Bill 109, enacted as part of the governor’s realignment of services in 2011. The legislation made counties responsible for supervising all but the most violent parolees — and prosecuting them for violations.
AB 109 also requires that so-called ”non-violent, non-serious” offenders not convicted of a sex-related felony serve their time in county jail, instead of going to state prison, even though their sentences could exceed 10 years.
Sheriff Stan Sniff said the changes have left the county’s jails bursting at the seams. Nearly 6,000 ”low-level” offenders were released early from county custody in 2012 to make space.
The local and state early releases have coincided with an upsurge in criminal activity, particularly in the southern and central areas of the county, Stone and Supervisor Marion Ashley noted.
”The ‘Hub Jail’ is going to be integral to bringing down crime statistics that we’re seeing countywide,” Stone said. ”We have to take it seriously.”
The proposed Riverside County Regional Detention Center was knocked off the county’s list of capital improvement priorities in 2011 in the face of what supervisors then agreed were prohibitive costs. The $300 million facility was to be erected on a 200-acre site in Whitewater, just off Interstate 10, on the eastern approach to Palm Springs. The project offered between 1,200 and 4,800 new inmate beds.
Coachella Valley tourism and hospitality interests widely opposed the concept, saying it would severely degrade the area’s appeal.
Stone said the county either needed to reconsider the current site or move quickly to find an alternate one.
”We could look at expanding the Smith Correctional Facility (in Banning) or the Southwest Detention Center (in Murrieta),” the supervisor said. ”But we have to look at the bigger scheme of things. We have to arrive at a decision. We need a shelf-ready project.”
Supervisor Kevin Jeffries broached the idea of the county purchasing a prison in Norco that the state is vacating, while Ashley pointed to further expansion of Smith as a viable option.
County Executive Officer Jay Orr vowed to scrutinize all possibilities and return to the board with possible solutions ”very soon.”