On Wednesday, three candidates for San Joaquin County office discussed a plan to build inexpensive, modular jail facilities, which they say are necessary to lower the county’s soaring crime rate and limit the number of inmates released early.

During a roadside news conference outside the San Joaquin County Honor Farm in French Camp, Sheriff candidate Sgt. Pat Withrow pitched the idea less than a week after the county learned it would not receive $33.3 million in state funds for a new jail facility.

While Withrow, a current sergeant with the Sheriff’s Office, has endorsed the idea since running to unseat incumbent Sheriff Steve Moore, county supervisor candidates Manuel Lopez, former San Joaquin County administrator, and Stockton Vice-Mayor Paul Canepa were also in attendance to show support for the plan.

Moore argues that prefabricated modular facilities are not viable solutions and adds he intends to solve overcrowding by exploring several no-cost options, such as increasing the number of two-bed cells.

But Withrow says that Moore has already had a chance to alleviate the county’s overcrowded jail.

“We need to look at ways that are low-cost to hold inmates immediately,” Withrow said. “We can’t have a plan that takes five years to build and continue to release inmates for another five years while our citizens are being victimized.”

Withrow proposed incrementally constructing modular facilities — each of which would take approximately three months to build and would house 64 inmates — as funds become available.

Withrow didn’t know the cost estimate for building and operating each facility, but said it would cost far less than the rejected $33.3 million Moore proposed using to reconstruct the existing honor farm.

While a $15 million deficit is expected in next year’s county budget, Lopez, who oversaw the budget for nearly two decades, said $16 to $17 million in general-purpose revenue is available.

“We have to have more jail beds today for a safer community,” Lopez said.

During a phone interview with the Lodi News-Sentinel on Wednesday, Moore said his office has previously explored building modular facilities, but learned they’re “usually not viable” because they often don’t meet fire safety codes or the minimum requirements for housing inmates.

He said that the facilities would also result in additional staffing costs, which the county may not be able to afford.

Moore is currently exploring numerous no-cost avenues, including adding up to 200 beds by increasing the number of double-bunked single cells.

The Sheriff’s Office is also working on implementing pre-trial release tools and sending long-term inmates to battle fires for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, along with other programs, Moore said.

During the news conference, Withrow discussed the possibility of opening several unused facilities inside the honor farm as a means of adding 350 to 400 additional beds to the county jail system immediately.

“With the existing buildings we have now, we just need to clean them up on the inside, throw some beds up, and of course, have the staff to watch them,” Withrow said. “We could do it very quickly.”

Moore contested that notion.

He said cleaning up those facilities, which were abandoned at least three decades ago, would entail a “complete renovation” and be of “considerable cost” in order to meet minimum inmate housing requirements.

“I believe it might be cheaper to knock (them) down and start over,” he said.

Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at krisa@lodinews.com.

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