Richmond jail plan uncertain after Supervisor Gioia rejects pledging county funds for project

County loses $80 million state grant to expand Richmond jail

A proposal to build a $90 million maximum-security jail at the existing West County Detention Center in Richmond faces uncertainty after Contra Costa County Board of Supervisor John Gioia on Tuesday rejected pledging county funds toward the project.

The supes voted 3-1 Tuesday to allow Sheriff David Livingston to apply for $80 million in state construction bonds earmarked by Senate Bill 863 to construct a new facility for 416 inmates on an existing campus at 5555 Giant Highway in Richmond.

However, the sheriff did not receive the four votes needed to secure millions of dollars in additional funds from the county for the project, including annual contributions toward staffing and programming at the proposed facility. While that weakens the sheriff’s application for the state grant, Livingston remained confident.

“We have a very strong application otherwise and think we’d be competitive,” he told supervisors.

The $80 million state grant would be used to build a state-of-the-art jail dedicated to sorely needed rehabilitation and re-entry services. But the grant requires that the county contribute 10-percent of the project costs and also spend an estimated $4.4 million annually to increase staffing and to run those programs.

While all supervisors agreed the project would be a significant improvement from the overcrowded, outdated conditions at the Martinez Detention Facility, Supervisor Gioia said he could not support pledging county funds every year for the jail. He said the $4.4 million annual cost would also increase over time.

“That’s a choice we’re making in lieu of other choices we can make,” Gioia said, adding the funds could instead pay for additional beat officers or intervention programs.

Gioia’s decision was cheered by a packed board chambers filled largely with West County community groups and residents who oppose the jail expansion.

The other three supervisors — Mary Piepho, Karen Mitchoff and Candace Andersen — expressed concern that Gioia’s vote could jeopardize a golden opportunity for the county to offer meaningful re-entry services to inmates. The sheriff must submit his application by Aug. 28.

Building a new jail anywhere else would be far more costly and impractical, Andersen said.

“The cost-savings to be able to build at [the Richmond site] is unprecedented,” Andersen said, adding the county would sorely miss the comprehensive mental services that would be offered by the new facility. “We have done a great deal in the last three years…in coming up with programs to help those in our communities who find themselves in jail. [With the new Richmond jail], we can provide those services for all of the county’s prisoners, not just a select few.”

Senate Bill 863 requires that grants be used to construct a facility emphasizing rehabilitation and re-entry services without adding beds to a county’s correctional system. Livingston says the Richmond jail project would do just that, adding 31,515 square feet of space dedicated to vocational and rehabilitative  programming, family visitation, clinical and medical services.

Under the plan, about 400 inmates from the Martinez jail would be transferred to the Richmond facility. That will lead to the closure of two housing units at the overcrowded Martinez facility, where inmate-on-inmate violence rose 50 percent in the past year. The Martinez facility currently lacks the space for comprehensive rehabilitative programs, the sheriff says.

Opponents of the project call Livingston’s plans deceptive. They believe that once inmates are transferred to the new Richmond facility, the sheriff will re-fill the Martinez facility, leading to an increase in county inmates. One community leader stated Tuesday, “If you build them, they will come.”

Opponents would rather spend public dollars to fund services in communities rather than to build more jails.

Richmond City Council voted to oppose the project. Assemblymember Tony Thurmond is also against it.