The San Benito County Jail expansion, which has been in the works for several years, is almost ready for inmates and sheriff’s jail staff to move in.
Sheriff’s Capt. Don Bradley, who has acted as the county’s project manager for the $22 million facility’s construction, said officials are planning a tentative opening date of Nov. 1. During a recent tour of the jail expansion, Bradley said construction is about “99 percent” finished.
One of the last key items to install is a new public safety radio system that meets state fire safety codes. The state fire marshal won’t grant the county an occupancy permit for the jail until that system is installed and the building’s fire alarm system is working properly, Bradley said.
The new jail is connected to the existing facility on Flynn Road in north Hollister by a screened breezeway. The two buildings will function together as a single jail that aims to meet state incarceration guidelines that did not exist when the old jail was built 27 years ago, Bradley explained.
Specifically, the new jail is designed to provide more space for inmates who are serving longer sentences in local detention than they used to, with expanded opportunities to get out early with skills and knowledge they can use in the outside world, Bradley said.
Thus the lobby of the existing jail will be repurposed as a Custody Alternatives Program, where inmates are evaluated for programs available in the new facility.
“This is a rehabilitation and retention facility,” Bradley said. “The Custody Alternatives Program determines if they have the desire or capability for education or work skill, to make them employable so they don’t come back to jail.”
The new jail includes a significant increase in classrooms and other space for educational programs, where inmates learn on electronic tablets and big-screen monitors hooked up to an advanced telecommunications system. In order to “qualify” to reside in the new jail, an inmate must exhibit good behavior and a desire and ability to learn. In order to stay there, they must attend class regularly and do their homework, Bradley said.
Inmates can work on obtaining a high school diploma or college degree, and use their learning to earn “milestone” credits to reduce their sentences—if approved by a judge, Bradley said.
“We have a complete lack of programming space in the current facility,” Bradley added. “This will allow more course offerings and more work skill programs.”
The new 22,000-square-foot jail adds 72 beds to the existing facility’s 142, but Bradley said the plan is to phase inmates into the new facility over the course of several years. Inmates in the new facility will be housed in two “pods” facing a single control room. Each pod is a two-story open floor loft, with three 12-person dorms, a classroom and bathroom facilities.
Another crucial upgrade in the new jail is the “state-of-the-art” medical wing. This portion of the jail includes dental and medical checkup rooms for individual inmates, and space for medical staff and contractors to treat incarcerated patients.
“This is a big addition we got out of this,” Bradley said. Today’s inmates often require more medical and mental health services than in the past, and the new Hollister jail aims to meet those needs more effectively.
The new jail includes many other additions that the current facility lacks: training and conference rooms for staff, a larger recreation yard with outdoor space where inmates may one day be permitted to tend a garden, a streamlined booking and intake area, more holding cells for unruly or mentally ill inmates, and a modern video surveillance system.
The county recently signed a contract with GTL for inmate telecommunications services at the new jail, incorporating the new technology to allow inmates to send emails and texts, and make video calls with people on the outside, Bradley explained. Such communications will be screened by jail staff.
Bradley is still hoping the county will provide more staffing. The San Benito County Board of Supervisors has approved three new jailer positions for the new facility. The sheriff’s office is hiring for those positions.
Until the new jail is fully staffed, Bradley said both buildings can be operated from a single central control room located in the older wing.
Planning on the jail expansion began in 2007, when the county applied for and received $15 million for the project under the state AB900 law. The county picked up the remaining $7 million or so with local funds.
Annual operating costs for the expanded jail are expected to add about $600,000 to the current jail operations budget, which came in at about $5.8 million last year, Bradley said. New costs are associated with more staff, services and supplies and utility bills.