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San Joaquin County officials question finances for expanding jail

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Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 5:42 am, Thu Feb 16, 2012.

The state will finance a majority of San Joaquin County’s $115 million county jail expansion planned in French Camp, but county officials are wondering how they can afford to staff and maintain the jail once it’s built.

“The elephant in the room is how to operate and staff it,” county Supervisor Larry Ruhstaller said at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. “Where do we find the money?”

Sheriff’s officials predict the staffing and operational costs for the new jail to be $16.2 million the first year and $55.2 million by the 10th year because of an anticipated increase in inmates and inflation.

Board chairman Steve Bestolarides asked County Administrator Manuel Lopez to report at a later date how the jail expansion costs would affect other county operations, such as getting the county-owned San Joaquin General Hospital into the black financially and trying to get the hospital certified by the state as a trauma center.

The state has conditionally awarded San Joaquin County $80 million toward construction of the new jail, with the county to pay an additional $25 million. The county has also spent $10.6 million for such services as transition planning from the current jail, needs assessment and site acquisition, sheriff’s Lt. Ron Wilborn told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Plans call for the new jail to accommodate 1,280 inmates. The project also includes space for people visiting inmates, employee break areas, larger refrigerators for food to feed inmates and two outdoor recreation areas for inmates so that they can get some fresh air.

There would also be a “video visitor center,” which would allow people to visit inmates by video from various areas in the county. For example, Wilborn said, someone who lives in Lodi could go to a Lodi location and talk by video to the inmate without having to drive to French Camp to see the inmate, Wilborn said.

The county has already expanded the current jail by 210 beds to accommodate extra inmates who are being transferred to San Joaquin County Jail to reduce the state prison population. These include non-violent and non-sex offenders, and parole violators.

The Sheriff’s Office reported that 414 inmates who would have been in state prison are instead at county jail. Another 135 inmates have been released into the community, and five inmates are on electronic monitoring.

Actual numbers regarding realignment are uncertain because the numbers provided are inconsistent. The statistics were provided in two reports, one by the Sheriff’s Office and one by a committee consisting of Chief Probation Officer Patricia Mazzili, Public Defender Peter Fox, Sheriff Steve Moore, Behavioral Health Director Vic Singh, Stockton Police Chief Blair Ulring, Superior Court Judge Richard Vlavianos and District Attorney Jim Willett.

Bestolarides requested that the Board of Supervisors be given consistent numbers so they know what the county is facing.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinew.com.

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