The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted against expanding the county jail on Tuesday, forcing the Sheriff’s Office to find alternative solutions to the current overcrowded facility.
The board narrowly rejected $80 million in state funds, which would have been used to build a new 1,280-bed facility and help lessen the number of inmates who are released early.
“The first place we need to study ... is taking the existing facility and making it more efficient,” said Supervisor Steve Bestolarides, who believes the county’s jail population can be cut by 10 percent by developing incarceration alternatives.
Sheriff Steve Moore and several other San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office representatives spoke in front of the board, advocating for the jail expansion plan and illustrating the problems an overcrowded facility presents, such as a county-wide increase in property crime.
Without approval from the board, the Sheriff’s department will now examine ways to house more inmates in the existing facility.
“At this point, I’m going to join with my criminal justice partners, and my staff will look forward to see what else we can do to create the additional jail beds within our own confines, and see what it brings,” Moore said.
The Sheriff’s department will discuss expanding the county’s practice of releasing inmates from the jail under their own recognizance before their trial. This would open beds in order to detain the county’s violent criminals.
They will also look at bunk beds, an idea presented Tuesday by the supervisors.
However, Moore said few units would allow bunks beds, and the beds would “most assuredly” leave the county open to lawsuits, like in other counties where inmates have sued over crowded jail conditions.
Lodi Police Chief Mark Helms addressed the supervisors Tuesday as well, speaking in favor of the expansion plan, as well as alternatives to incarceration.
“We understand that prison makes people worse, not better,” said Helms, a representative for all the county’s police chiefs. “We understand that a risk assessment tool is desperately needed here to make sure we have the right people in custody, and people who don’t need to be there are allowed to leave.”
Helms addressed Lodi’s leading crime issue: multiple offending criminals who are routinely released early from jail because they commit a low-level offense, such as property crime.
Helms said car thefts in Lodi increased 39 percent last year, and are so far up 62 percent this year.
“What we see is we’re doing a really good job of arresting these offenders,” he said. “But they’re not staying in custody because it’s a low-level offense. So they’ll come out of jail and they’ll reoffend.”
Board Chair Ken Vogel, who voted with Bob Elliott in favor of the plan, said rejecting the expansion would eliminate the option of expanding the jail in the future.
The expanded jail would have cost the county $70 million annually, and supervisors who rejected the plan believe those funds would be better served in other ways.
Supervisor Carlos Villapudua, who joined Larry Ruhstaller and Bestolarides in voting against the expansion, said the county should invest in crime prevention, mental health programs, substance abuse programs and more.
“Do we need another jail?” Villapudua said, “We just need to figure out a better, practical solution.”
Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.