Thursday, September 16, 2010

Single-Handedly Terminating the SLO County Women's Jail Expansion, and Saving SLO County Residents Multi-Millions of Dollars

by Ron Crawford

Every once in a while, SewerWatch will veer off course to cover another story, as long as said story is excellent.

The is one of those detours, and this is flat-out, SewerWatch-caliber, time-stamped, primary-source-backed-up, kick-ass excellent!

As if things couldn't get any worse for the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Department, they're about to get a lot worse... over a million dollars of SLO County taxpayer money worse.

A SewerWatch investigation reveals that the Sheriff's Department failed to fully inform the SLO County Board of Supervisors in 2008, about the need for a $35 million expansion of the county's women's jail facility, and, because the Sheriff's Department failed to fully inform Supervisors in 2008 on that subject, potentially, more than one million dollars of public, SLO county money, was wasted, and this Tuesday, they were about to do it again... that is, until I caught them.

This... is... great!

In July of 2008, I authored a story that showed how a 2007 state law -- SB 959 -- signed by Governor Schwarzenegger, and was supported by the California State Sheriffs' Association, and local Assemblyman, Sam Blakeslee, allows individual counties in the state to enact a mandatory home detention program for county jail inmates, in an effort to reduce illegal (read: litigation-able) overcrowding in county jails.

Also in that story, I show how SLO County is in the minority of California counties to not adopt a SB 959 style mandatory home detention program for non-violent offenders. (It's important to note that SLO County currently has a voluntary home detention program, but not a mandatory home detention program. Huge difference.)

I also show in my story how the County of SLO is currently in the process of designing a $35 million expansion to their women's jail facility, solely to reduce the overcrowding (thus, potential litigation) that presently exists in their current women's jail facility.

Then, in that story, I asked Chief Deputy for the SLO County Sheriff's Department, Rob Reid, why his department, instead of expanding the current women's facility, at a cost of some $35 million, wasn't simply recommending to the Board of Supervisors a SB 959 style home detention program. After all, SB 959 was supported by the California State Sheriffs' Association.

Reid responded, "Incarceration allows a vast majority of individuals who are 'one-timers' the incentive to never return... (without incarceration) these individuals may not benefit from the wake-up call received by many, and thus prevent their return which increases our population."

Gets worse for Deputy Reid.

Just three months after my story was published -- a story where I discussed SB 959 with Chief Deputy Reid -- he appeared before County Supervisors, on October 14, 2008, at a budget hearing involving the new women's jail facility, where Reid told Supervisors that there really was no other choice than to proceed with the expansion. The choices, he explained, were to either build the expansion, or get sued for overcrowding.

However, what Reid failed to tell the Supervisors at that meeting, was that the Governor recently signed legislation -- SB 959 -- that was passed specifically to allow California counties that are experiencing jail overcrowding an alternative to the early release of inmates.

If you watch the video of that meeting, you can actually see that the Chairman at the time, Supervisor Jim Patterson, wasn't fully informed on the subject. He actually reiterates Reid's assertion, that the only choices the county has are to expand the jail, or get sued for overcrowding, and SB 959 is never mentioned.

At that meeting, Supervisors voted 5-0 to move forward with the design process of the new women's jail facility, and budgeted over $1 million for design.

Several attempts by SewerWatch to contact Supervisor Patterson for this story, to ask him that if he had been fully informed about SB 959 at that October 2008 hearing, would he still have voted to proceed with the expansion, failed.

If his answer to that question is "no," then that means that, because Reid failed to fully inform County Supervisors about SB 959 in 2008, $1 million was wasted on the design of an unnecessary jail expansion.

Now, thanks to me, we're about to find out the answer to that question.

Here's where this already over-the-top interesting story, gets blow-your-hair-back interesting.

This Tuesday, the women's jail expansion project comes before the Supervisors again.

According to the staff report for that item, Supervisors have three alternatives on what to do with the project. They can either vote to proceed, put it on hold, or terminate the project entirely.

Also in that report, it doesn't mention SB 959, at all... again.

So I phoned the author of that report, Vincent Morici, of the County's Administration office, and asked him who was giving the presentation for that item to Supervisors next Tuesday.

He told me that both Deputy Reid, and himself would be giving the presentation.

I then asked him if they were going to mention SB 959 in their presentation.

At first, he said that they were not, and when I asked him what it would take to include that discussion in his presentation, he told me that he would have to first speak with Chief Administrative Officer for the county, Jim Grant.

I phoned Morici back (today), and he told me that they are now going to mention SB 959 in their presentation on Tuesday.

So, look what happened there. It's flat-out awesome:

Again, Reid was going to give a presentation to the Board of Supervisors involving the $35 million women's jail expansion, and, again he wasn't going to inform them on SB 959.

And now, thanks solely to me, they are.

And look at the unbelievably beautiful dynamic that now presents:

Will County Supervisors still vote 5-0 to proceed with an expensive women's jail expansion, when there is a much more cost effective alternative to deal with jail overcrowding, than simply early release for inmates?

Frankly, I don't see how they can. I think I may have single-handedly just killed the women's jail expansion.

Check out these eye-popping numbers:

According to the staff report, there's enough space at the current facility to legally house 43 inmates. However, also according to the staff report, the average population at the facility is 73 inmates, so, we're talking about 30 inmates here... 30... on average.

According to a 2009 Pew study, the cost to incarcerate one inmate, on average, is $29,000 a year in the U.S.

According to Morici's staff report, the cost to the county to build the project is estimated at about $10 million (with another $25 million coming from a state grant).

I'm going to take that number -- $10 million -- and spread it out over 20 years, for $500,000 a year.

Then I'm going to add that $500,000 per year to the estimated cost of staffing and running the new women's jail facility of $1.8 million a year, for a total of $2.3 million per year, over the next 20 years, to build and operate the facility.

At that number -- $2.3 million per year, to build and operate the facility -- the cost per over-the-limit inmate, for the current average of 30 over-the-limit inmates, is over $76,000 per year... per over-the-limit inmate!

In his staff report, Morici states that as the county's population continues to grow, it's safe to assume that so too will the women's jail population.

At 40 over the limit, it's $57,500 per year.

And at 50, it's still $46,000... per year... per over-the-limit inmate.

The cost to incarcerate one inmate, on average, is $29,000 a year in the U.S.

According to the 2007 bill analysis of SB 959, "The cost of involuntary home detention electronic monitoring is about $10 per day."

$3,650 versus $76,000.

The bill analysis continues, "SB 959 will allow counties to place inmates on involuntary electronic home monitoring when faced with early release. This will not only free up bed space for participating counties but it will also save counties money because the cost of home monitoring is substantially less than the cost of incarceration."

Under SB 959, only non-violent offenders are eligible for involuntary home detention.

SewerWatch contacted Rob Bryn, spokesperson for the SLO County Sheriff's Department, to see if his department has a statistic for the average percentage of women inmates at their facility, that are considered violent offenders.

As of press time, he did not reply.

If Supervisors vote to proceed with the jail expansion on Tuesday, another $1.2 million will go to design, according to the staff report.

Also, look what happens if, upon hearing about SB 959, Supervisors vote to terminate the project. This is amazing:

That will mean that, had deputy Reid fully informed the Board in October of 2008, then, almost certainly, the Board would have adopted a SB 959 style program then, and the over $1 million that's been spent on the design of the project since that hearing, would have been saved.

As hard as it is to believe, this story gets better.

If the Board of Supervisors vote to terminate the project on Tuesday (and, after this SewerWatch presentation, I really don't see how they have much of a choice. I mean, c'mon... a $35 million jail expansion, with an annual operational cost of about $2 million, for 30 non-violent women inmates, at a cost of over $75,000 per year, per inmate? It really looks like they don't have much of a choice on Tuesday but to terminate the project entirely), that means I will have single-handedly saved the county $10 million in construction costs, and nearly $2 million a year in operational costs, so, now I feel that I am entitled to a say where a tiny fraction of that truckload of money, that I just saved the county, should go.

Today, I contacted Frank Warren, Division Manager at the county's drug and alcohol prevention office.

I asked him if his office currently has a drug and alcohol prevention program only for women.

He told me that he has heard of such programs, and that they are preferred by women (as I thought, that's why I asked), but that the county currently does not have a women only drug and alcohol prevention program.

When county supervisors terminate the women's jail project this Tuesday, I will, considering that I just saved them $10 million in construction costs, and nearly $2 million a year in operations cost, lobby that a tiny, tiny fraction of that money goes to start, and fund, a women only drug and alcohol prevention program in the county.

According to Morici's staff report:

"... the near term result of not proceeding with development of the facility is likely to be the early release of female inmates."

Not accurate. Mandatory home detention would immediately solve that.


"Alternative sentencing programs may provide some relief, but the costs of these programs are unknown and could be substantial."

Costs are known, and they are substantially cheaper.

Finally, I sent the following e-mail to Sheriff's Department spokesman, Rob Bryn, on 1/7/09:

    Hello Mr. Bryn,

    Last month I sent you the e-mail below, however, probably due to the holiday season, I've yet to receive a response.

    Now that's it's the new year, and things have calm down a bit (relatively ; - ), I was hoping I could get a quick answer to my question.

    Thanks again,


    [Originally sent 12/12/08]

    Hello Mr. Bryn,

    I'm an independent journalist in SLO County, and I'm researching a story that involves the proposed expansion of the county's women's jail facility.

    A couple of months back, during the budget hearings at the Board of Supervisors, I noticed that, when addressing Supervisor Patterson's question regarding the need for the facility's expansion, Deputy Reid failed to mention an alternative to incarceration that was recently signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger -- SB 959 -- that allows counties in California to create mandatory home detention programs for "low-risk" inmates in order to prevent overcrowding in the state's jails.

    As you may know, SB 959 was supported by, among other law enforcement groups, the California State Sheriffs' Association, and local assemblyman, Sam Blakeslee.

    So, here's my question:

    What happened there? Why did Deputy Reid not tell the Board of Supervisors about SB 959? How does he respond to that?

    Thank you for your time,

Bryn never replied.


[Note: If I receive any updates to this story between now, and Tuesday, I'll either publish them here, at the bottom of this post, or in the comments section for this post. And, don't forget to support independent journalism. Details on the right side of the front page at]


  • I'm betting the BOS will vote to go ahead with the 35 mil expansion program.Just because they can do something better, doesn't mean they have to. Plus, if they get a fee for administering any construction . . .

    This is so sadly typical. Deliberately witholding key info from the BOS, the BOS members are informed they've been kept in the dark, followed by a shrug of the shoulders, after which they go ahead anyway.

    By Blogger Churadogs, at 7:25 AM, September 17, 2010  

  • Chura writes:

    "I'm betting the BOS will vote to go ahead with the 35 mil expansion program. Just because they can do something better, doesn't mean they have to."

    That's going to very interesting to watch (hear?) on Tuesday, because, not only did I get Morici to add the SB 959 discussion to his presentation, I also e-mailed him those numbers that I crunched... using his own report, that show the over $76,000/year per over-the-limit inmate, vs. the $10/day for the mandatory home monitoring, and asked that he add those numbers to his presentation.

    I just can't get over it -- 30, on average, non-violent women inmates, and for that, people like Bruce Gibson and Jim Patterson are going to build $35 million jail, with a $2 million/year operating THIS financial climate, when they could just slap a bracelet on them for $10/day?


    No comprendo.

    Ya know, I think I'll still be able to sleep at night in SLO County, knowing that 30 non-violent women inmates are being monitored at their homes, instead of being locked-up in a new, state-of-the-art jail, at a price tag of nearly $80,000 per year, per inmate.

    I may not be a criminologist, but I'm pretty sure we won't be seeing a gigantic spike in crime in the county, because 30 non-violent women are being monitored at home, instead of jammed in a new jail, at an exorbitant rate.

    Chura writes:

    "This is so sadly typical. Deliberately witholding key info from the BOS, the BOS members are informed they've been kept in the dark, followed by a shrug of the shoulders, after which they go ahead anyway."

    Hmmm, where have I seen that scenario before? Lemme think... lemme think...

    By Blogger Ron, at 9:58 AM, September 17, 2010  

  • Just for kicks... I went back and did some more number crunching.

    That $76,000/year per over-the-limit inmate number that I crunched, is just the cost to SLO County.

    I wanted to see what the TOTAL cost to the county AND state would be.

    So, I took that $25 million grant number, divided IT by 20 years, and came up with $1.25 million/year.

    I then added that to the $2.3 million that the county is coughing up, for a grand total of $3.55 million, per year, for the next 20 years.

    [Drum roll please... btttttttttttttttt]

    The overall cost -- between the state and the county -- to incarcerate an extra 30 non-violent women inmates at a new jail facility, comes out at over $118,000 per year... per over-the-limit inmate.

    Almost four times the national average!

    [cymbal crash]

    By Blogger Ron, at 10:59 AM, September 17, 2010  

  • Is there a drop dead gorgeous park included in the jail expansion?
    Sitting in Oregon Laughing my ass off.

    By Blogger Mike Green, at 7:48 PM, September 17, 2010  

  • Ron, Tribune story this morning on this issue made NO MENTION of the at-home-monitoring option. Zip. Zero. But did note that even after the county got the millions from the state to build the new jail, the county would be on the hook for $1.6 to maintain and run it.

    Please scan the Tribune story and see if you can see even a glimmer of that option being mentioned. Guess the taxpayer's are to be kept in the dark? Well, the Tribune's good at that sort of thing.

    I posted a few comments on my blog. Mike Green's got it right. Sit in Oregon and laugh your ass off. Come back here and help pay for that $1.6 mil . . . .Hmmm. . .

    By Blogger Churadogs, at 5:44 AM, September 21, 2010  

  • I only caught a little of the disussion at the BOS's place.
    Sounds like it did get described some, perhaps you mae that happen, didn't catch if it got to an action Item. I assume an Upate Forthcoming, here or on
    Hmmm McCatchy

    By Blogger Alon Perlman, at 7:17 PM, September 21, 2010  

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