MADERA –Officials from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), the Madera County Sheriff’s Office, Department of Corrections, Probation Department, Board of Supervisors and a host of others were on hand Friday, Feb. 8, for the dedication of the new Madera County Jail expansion.
This was the first project completed in the state using special funds made available by AB900, the Public Safety and Offender Rehabilitation Services Act of 2007.AB900 authorized the CDCR to design, construct, or renovate prison and jail facilities to help reduce overcrowding. Madera County was first in line to apply for the funding, and was awarded $30 million for the project.
The expansion adds two new units to the jail, increasing inmate housing by 144 beds, and bringing the capacity of the facility to some 563 inmates.
“Over the last 16 months, California has made a historic change in correctional policy. Under Public Safety Realignment, we have created a stronger partnership between counties and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation,” said CDCR Deputy Secretary for External Affairs, Nolice Edwards. “As a result, more low-level offenders are now being housed and rehabilitated in their own communities instead of state prison.”
With the passage of AB109 in 2011, Public Safety Realignment allows non-violent, non-serious, and non-sexual offenders to serve their sentence in county jails instead of state prisons. This means that county jails have taken on the burden of many inmates who, before realignment, would have gone to state prison.
District Attorney Michael Keitz addressed the crowd, saying that the expansion of the jail is noon too soon.
“The advent of Realignment under AB109 has significantly impacted law enforcement, and decreased their ability to house persons newly arrested,” said Keitz. “Many defendants who would normally be sent to state prison, such as probation and parole violators, are now mandated to be held in our county jail. We have had to house inmates beyond the jail’s design capacity, and release inmates who would have not been released were it not for overcrowding.”
Keitz welcomed the additional capacity, noting the greater flexibility afforded to jail officials, and the ability of law enforcement to better protect the public and seek justice for the people of Madera County.
Manuel Perez, director of the Madera County Department of Corrections, is happy to be able to keep prisoners in custody who need to be there, rather than releasing them because there is no more room in the jail.
After the dedication ceremony, officials conducted a tour of the jail expansion, which has been designed to give jail officers more flexibility and provide greater security for both inmates and staff.
One feature of the new facility allows for inmates to communicate with their attorneys through video from private rooms, and plans are underway to offer Skype capabilities. This will allow family and friends to visit with inmates through video, saving them the time and expense of traveling to the jail in person.
While Madera County’s jail expansion is the first in the state to be completed with AB900 funds, it won’t be the last. The bill provides $1.2 billion for counties to build projects like the one in Madera to reduce overcrowding in local jails. Currently, 21 counties are expanding jails with state funds from AB 900.