State committee approves $24 million in funding for Maguire jail improvements

SF Examiner

By Max A. Cherney

San Mateo County’s jail system is set to receive a $24 million injection of state funds for Maguire Correctional Facility upgrades from a state committee that oversees funding for jail construction, the county sheriff said.

The state cash is earmarked for spending on improvements aimed at modernizing the jail inRedwood City — through improved mental health treatment services and programming — as well as increasing capacity to handle the state’s prison realignment program. Seismic upgrades are also a part of the planned improvements, with the funding provided via Senate Bill 1022, Sheriff Greg Munks said.

“We’re stuck with the building for the next 20 to 30 years,” Munks said. “We think that by investing the money, we’ll get more out of it.”

Expanded capacity to address mental illness is strongly needed because about 15 percent of male inmates, and 20 percent of females, are diagnosed with some form of mental illness, according to Munks.

State prisons and county jails are the No. 1 treatment facility for the mentally ill,” he said.

Accommodating the needs of mentally ill defendants puts a considerable strain on the County Jail system, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe has told The San Francisco Examiner in the past.

The planned improvements also include a hands-on retail training area in a portion of the jail that will no longer be needed after the new Maple StreetCorrectional Center opens. The idea is to train inmates for vocational jobs, but the majority of the county’s vocational programming for inmates will be relocated to the new jail, Munks said.

To cope with realignment — a state program to transfer certain nonviolent offenders from state prisons to county jails — the county will spend some of the money fixing up the outdoor recreation area. Having access to the outdoors is important for inmates serving longer sentences typical of those moving from state prison, jail officials note.

But overall, officials say realignment hasn’t created the strain on the Maguire jail that was originally anticipated. That’s because judges in the county favor split sentences, in which defendants serve up to half their time under supervision outside of prison.

In the past, spending money on county jails has been controversial in San Mateo County. The new jail under construction on Maple Street has faced both opposition and funding trouble. Activists from the American Civil Liberties Union and Critical Resistance claim the county simply wants to lock more people up, rather than fund rehabilitation programs.

However, Munks doesn’t see it that way and claims that despite the increase in inmate beds, the main goal is to bring the system up to date.

“The new facility we’re building isn’t about expanding the system; it’s about modernizing it,” Munks said. “It’s about better job training, reducing recidivism and responding to realignment.”

Last year, the state Assembly committee denied the county about $80 million in reimbursements for the new jail’s costs — about half the total — which some activists called a victory.