The Mendocino County Jail

by AVA News Service, November 30, 2016

Sheriff Tom Allman described the problems at the Mendocino County Jail at the Board of Supervisors quarterly budget meeting on November 14, 2016:

Allman: “Several things have changed since the last round of grant applications. For rural sheriffs I have found out that the new round of funding is $25 million. They did that because all the rural sheriffs are having major cost overruns. With today's contractor costs it's not as competitive as it used to be in 2009-2010. This funding is for severely mentally ill inmates and severely violent inmates, two classes of inmates that we have to keep segregated because they have their own individual needs. We are looking forward to working with Alan ['The Kid'] Flora, Deputy CEO in getting this funding whose experience in Lake County will be helpful.

“Staffing is a big deal. However newer jail designs are more efficient with staff. We have a linear jail. Basically we run a minimum of nine people on every shift. With modern building techniques that would drastically reduce the number of correctional deputies per inmate. Humboldt County has been able to adequately staff without going the way they were before. So new building techniques will save some money.

“Last Tuesday when the voters passed Proposition 57 which was after they passed Proposition 47… Before Proposition 47 our average daily inmate population ran about 245, then it went up to 310 because the voters mandated that more state prisoners be locked up in county jails. Proposition 57, in layman's terms, is Prop 47 on steroids. It will greatly increase our population of violent offenders including sexual offenders who are at the state prison now who will be released to come back to County Jail. If they commit a state level crime we will not be able to send them to the state prison because there is prison overcrowding. So we are on track to see record numbers in our facility this year. I don't even want to guess if the Trump presidency is going to increase the number of undocumented aliens that remain in jail because right now they are not staying in jail because the current president, President Obama, has given direction to ICE to not hold them. So we see a very cloudy path to predict where we are going to be a few months from now.

“Once we start on a new facility we are five years from being able to say that we have a modern facility. This is just the second step in doing it. We do know, because the governor made it very clear to all rural sheriffs, that this is the last round of funding that is going to be given in the name of AB 109 and the Prop 47 quagmire.”

Supervisor Dan Hamburg: “It's certainly sobering. I realize the pressure that is now on the facility and it's an aging facility and we all know the inefficiencies. To think that even if we get the funding there will be years before we have a facility that meets the needs of the current times. It's a very difficult situation. I hope we take some time to put aside money for the local match for these grants.

Allman: “I met with the CEO's office last week on this. It's nice to see that things that happen in these meetings are presented to the public the same way that they were talked about in the meetings. I really appreciate that. We have a great deal of trust in the CEO's office and the way the numbers were presented today.

Supervisor John McCowen: We are applying for funds for a new jail. We are also applying for specialized facilities as you described.

Allman: They are one and the same, you know that?

McCowen: They are one and the same? I'm not sure that's always been clear at least to me.

Allman: At the beginning when we made our first application Captain Pearce [Jail Commander] said that the two biggest populations in the jail that require the most attention right now the way this jail is built are violent defenders, as in people who will attack our staff or other inmates, and severely mentally ill inmates. These are not patients, but inmates who have committed a crime, most likely a violent crime, but they are also being treated for a mental illness. Those two populations are requiring our very immediate attention and this new facility that we are going to be applying for will be not just for their incarceration, but for their treatment and the group sessions which we have been trying to make happen in the jail. But when these two facilities that we currently have were built, group sessions were not a high priority for the state to watch for. So we are kind of anxious to learn more about new building techniques which will allow our staff to deal with a population that is not going anywhere: these two populations. They are not going go some other place. Because of Prop 47, Prop 57, and AB 109, they are going to be in our care for a long time. With Prop 47 the paradigm of having an inmate sentenced to the county jail for a year and after that they go to state prison is, of course, no longer there. We have a least one inmate in our county jail who is sentenced to 14 years. With half-time credit that is seven years. So that inmate will be in custody for seven years in a county jail that was built for incarceration up to one year. So there will be many people retiring before this inmate gets out of jail.

“It's not a revolving door anymore. It's more like you send them in and they are stagnant there. So we are trying to improve our programs to reduce recidivism and that's why you are seeing a push for the jobs we are trying to target on the outside for inmates so we can figure out a way to reduce our population because we have seen a consistent graph of increasing population. We will bring a presentation to the board early next year to show what our jail population characteristics are. The fallacy is that our jail is full of marijuana cultivators or people who are not paying child support. That's a fallacy. There certainly are some of those types of inmates. But they are the lowest level of inmates in there now. We are now talking about third and fourth offense drunk drivers, third or fourth offense domestic violence and serious heavy drug dealing. The undocumented alien population which I referred to earlier is expected to be on the increase. Our jail is built for 304. This morning it was 308. Last week it was 325. So we are certainly seeing fluctuation at the high level of the population.

"The District Attorney and I have been meeting to try to predict where we are going to go with Proposition 57. We see a huge increase in inmates who are applying to get out of custody and the workload on the District Attorney's Office and the Public Defender's office — without a doubt it will be the highest for the next six weeks of this year, more than we have ever seen before. It's a, May you live in interesting times kind of scenario.

McCowen: “At one point we were applying just for the specialized facilities and they would have been built in tandem with the old jail. Am my out to lunch on that?”

Allman: “You have never been out to lunch, supervisor.”

McCowen: “But I have never missed lunch.” [Laughs]

Allman: “The separate specialized facilities are the new building that we are trying to get the funding for. It's not a warehouse for inmates.”

McCowen: “But I'm still trying to understand what we are setting these funds aside for. Is it to build a complete new jail facility, that would include the specialized facilities?”

Allman:” This $25 million is for a 64 bed facility which will cater to these two special populations.”

McCowen: “So that's all we are setting this aside for? We will still have the old jail?”

Allman: “That's 100% correct. But I would gladly entertain a motion to redo the whole thing. But a new jail facility? Let's be honest, it's at least a $60 million proposition. I am not coming to you with that statement. The good news is this is a $25 million opportunity for us. If we as a County make the decision to keep our correctional facility on Low Gap Road then this is the best plan for the next 25 or 30 years.”

McCowen: “And yet we are well aware that the current jail infrastructure is crumbling.”

Allman: “We would welcome a tour from any citizen or boardmember anytime of the day. We have a crumbling infrastructure but it is what it is. There's no magic wand here.”

McCowen: “I took a tour seven years ago I think — and it was crumbling then. So we reach a point where the ongoing maintenance and repairs and complications and built in inefficiencies of that facility meet up — you could be paying for a new facility. At some point you hit the tipping point.”

Allman: “Those are my lines, not yours. That's exactly where we are.”

McCowen: “It also compromises officer safety.”

Allman: “It does. Anyway, we are working on a presentation for February.”

Supervisor Dan Gjerde: “With a new facility there is staffing of $1 million?”

Allman: “That's what the presentation will be about.”

Gjerde: “So can we find out what the cost would be of an entirely new facility, a state-of-the-art facility cost? Because the grant would not pay for the entire capital cost. On the other hand if we could reduce the total staffing and handle more inmates for the new facility that could be one way we could be paying off the mortgage.”

Allman: “As long as we realize that we cannot go below the industry standard for the safety of our employees and the safety of the inmates which is paramount. Saving money as some counties are doing right now — for example Glenn County does not even have enough correctional deputies to fill their slots, let alone overtime slots. They are on the road to doom. I talked to their sheriff last week. Mendocino County is at least at the point where we can cover nine slots. I would like to figure out a solution. That's why we are seeing an increase in ankle bracelets, an increase in work furlough— we are doing everything we can. Kudos to our correctional deputies who have stepped up their game and their productivity to get people out the door so we have room for all the people coming back in the door.”

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