‘Big liability’ in Nevada County jail’s overcrowding | SierraSun.com

‘Big liability’ in Nevada County jail’s overcrowding

Laura Brown
Sun News Service

GRASS VALLEY ” Two months after a grand jury report found the county’s jail overcrowded, a needs assessment of the jail has drawn similar conclusions.

A growing number of women and mentally ill inmates in custody and the limited space for segregating them poses liabilities to the county, the Jail Needs Assessment Study found.

Because of the lack of space, female inmates are separated by a partition but within close proximity to male inmates in the same day-use room. Minimum and maximum security women also share the same space.

“The inadequate housing options for females, males with special classification needs and the mentally ill is of significant concern,” read the report.

“The danger in that is there’s a big liability,” said Michael Harris, president of Harris and Harris Enterprises, a correctional consulting firm. He spent four months on the report with Steven Reader and Associates.

On Tuesday, Harris and Reader briefed the county’s Board of Supervisors.

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The lack of housing in county jails is widespread throughout the state. The problem is expected to worsen if state lawmakers adopt a proposal to return prison inmates to counties for the past 18 months of their sentence to control overcrowding, said Sheriff Keith Royal.

Since 2000, the number of woman incarcerated at the jail for violent and drug-related crimes has grown from 16.5 to 28.2 in 2005, according to the assessment.

The jail in San Joaquin county is the only other correctional facility in the state that mixes men and women, said Harris.

“It’s very uncommon,” Harris said.

In 1992, when the jail was built, 15 beds were set aside for women. Today, female inmates regularly require 40 beds, Royal said. The jail has a total of 250 beds and came close to reaching state maximum occupancy rates of 80 percent several times this year, Royal said.

“We’ve been on the verge a few days this past year,” Royal said.

Besides needing a separate housing facility for women with a female-only staff, the jail needs to provide separate housing for inmates with psychological problems to prevent suicide or behavior problems with other inmates, the report found. Bed space at out-of-county psychiatric hospitals can be hard to come by, Royal said.

Medical staff estimate 20 percent of all inmates are on psychotropic medications and an average 15 to 20 had sufficient mental health issues and two or three had dangerously significant mental health issues.

Expansion or renovations to the jail will be expensive. A new female housing unit will cost between $8,500,000 and $12,800,000, or if the county chooses to build a new male housing unit, Royal’s preference, construction will soar to between $9,100,000 and $13,700,000.

Remodeling is a last resort option if funding is scarce and is estimated to cost between $2,400,000 and $3,500,000.

“We’ve been setting money aside in our reserves in anticipation of this,” said Rick Haffey, county executive officer. A feasibility study for the project is expected to cost $150,000 to $170,000, said Stephen Monaghan, chief information officer, in a letter to the county supervisors.

The county has set aside $4 million in the general fund for various facility projects including jail expansion, said Joe Christoffel, deputy county executive officer. In addition, the county is also setting aside funds annually for future operation and staffing of the facility.

“It is very likely in five years we will have a remodeled jail,” Haffey said.

Meanwhile, jail staff will continue to juggle inmates around, asking judges to shave five days off a sentence and manage people as best they can.

“We have some remedies in place but it’s not a perfect world,” Royal said.