Supes Green-Light $17 Million for Controversial Jail

Cost of 576-bed facility estimated at $145-$160 million. Board says jail will include rehabilitation services and create construction jobs. Opponents scoff at spending millions on a jail amid austerity measures.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve nearly $17 million in design and engineering contracts for building a new county jail in Redwood City.

The board last year approved plans for a jail to be constructed on a 5-acre plot on Chemical Way, a 576-bed facility that is expected to eventually cost between $145 and $160 million, Sheriff Greg Munks said.

The need to relieve overcrowding at the county's existing Maguire Jail and accommodate a gradual influx of new inmates expected to be housed in the county under realignment continued to be the driving needs for the facility, Munks said.

About a dozen community members spoke at the meeting, most in opposition to constructing a multi-million dollar jail in a time of budget cuts and fiscal austerity. Others voiced opposition to furthering a policy of  incarceration over early prevention and substance abuse programs.

Micaela Davis, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union  of Northern California, called the new jail a "costly (avoidable) mistake."

"Building a new jail is not the answer from either a fiscal or a criminal justice perspective," Davis said.

Supervisor Dave Pine acknowledged the concerns over the size, cost and scope of the new facility, but underlined the importance of moving forward.

"We do need to go forward with the process of building a new jail," Pine said.

Supervisor Rose Jacobs-Gibson addressed the public's concerns over incarceration by emphasizing that the new jail will be more than just a warehouse for inmates, but also a state-of-the-art rehabilitation facility encompassing re-entry programs, counseling, job training and better overall accommodations.

"Many of us started out with reservations," Jacobs-Gibson said. "There are people who are still opposed to a jail even though we are moving forward.

"We are going to build a jail," she said.

Munks said that over the life of the project, as many as 300 construction jobs and 100 architectural and design jobs will be created, most of them going to the local work force.

Supervisor Adrienne Tissier called today's action an "important agreement" and said the project was critical for the economic health of the community.

"The more jobs we create the better it is for the community as a whole," Tissier said.

Work to demolish empty buildings at the site of the new jail could start as early as this summer, Munks said.

- Bay City News

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