Sacramento County wins $56 million to expand jail; Yolo County gets nothing, weighs appeal

Published: Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 - 11:03 pm

Sacramento County won a $56 million state grant for a jail expansion Thursday – the result of an awards process that has been challenged by sheriffs whose grant requests were denied.

Officials from Stanislaus, Butte and other counties complained about the rating system used by the Board of State and Community Corrections to award $500 million for county jail expansions intended to improve medical, mental health and vocational services. The state approved the funding because counties are assuming greater responsibility for offenders who once would have been in prison.

Yolo County, meanwhile, is considering filing an appeal of the board’s decision to deny the county’s request for a $40 million grant, said county spokeswoman Beth Gabor.

An appeal by any of the losing counties could delay funding and ultimately force the state to revise its awards, which were granted under new rules designed to speed up the building of jail facilities. The new process was adopted in response to delays in finishing earlier state jail construction programs.

The new process gives preference to counties that can demonstrate an ability to quickly build and staff the new jail facilities. Stanislaus and Butte counties were bypassed for awards despite receiving more points for their proposals than four of the five counties that received awards in the medium-size county category. The reason: They fell short in some category related to their ability to deliver quickly.

Yolo County also scored higher than one of the grantees in the same population category, but had its proposal denied. Gary Wion of the Board of State and Community Corrections said the reason for the denial was that one of the county’s proposed sources of matching funds was not clearly dedicated to jail work. The funding requires a 10 percent match by the counties.

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones told the board that he understood the frustration of the other sheriffs. But he said it would not be fair to him and other sheriffs who received awards to revise the decisions.

A revision of the grant awards could hurt Sacramento County, since it was the last of four counties to receive an award in the large-county category. The county’s award is $24 million short of its request, because no more money was left in that population category.

Sacramento and two other counties receiving partial awards will have to submit plans to the state showing how they will scale back their original plans. Sacramento County plans to use its funding to expand programs at Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center. The jail will enlarge vocational programs and add a new mental health and medical center.

During Thursday’s board hearing, Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christenson said his department was denied a request simply because it would not meet an environmental requirement until 10 days after the state received the county’s application. Yet the board never raised the issue when he made presentation about the application in December, he said.

“We are not alone in our dissatisfaction,” he said.

The board’s executive director, Kathleen Howard, said the preference categories were reviewed by the state Department of Finance “fairly, objectively and consistently.”

But some board members expressed frustration with the process and said they would like it revised to provide better communication with applicants in the future. Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget calls for another $500 million for jail expansions, a response to the increased pressure on county jails since the state has been forced by the federal courts to reduce its prison population.

Call The Bee’s Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @BradB_at_SacBee.

Read more articles by Brad Branan

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