Overcrowding plagues county jails 

Even as the county this week prepares to release a report highlighting the need to build a new women’s jail, Sheriff Greg Munks says a much larger, 500-bed facility is need to solve the county’s overcrowding problem.

Long delayed due to costs, the matter of additional jail capacity appears to have reached critical mass as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger floats a proposal to solve the state’s prison overcrowding by sending more inmates to county jails, officials said.

Rated for 688 inmates, San Mateo County’s largest jail, Maguire Correctional Facility, housed 1,004 on Thursday. The women’s jail, rated for 84 inmates, housed 140, with an additional 24 spilling over into a separate pod at the Maguire facility, Assistant Sheriff Greg Trindle said.

"We’re pretty certain we’re going to get more prisoners," Munks said.

The details on how many state inmates could be moved from prison to local jails, and whether the state would pay to build and run new jails are still being negotiated.

"They’d really be putting their burden onto us," Board of Supervisors President Rose Jacobs Gibson said, referring to the governor’s proposal.

The matter is serious enough that the county has hired a second lobbyist whose primary job is to make sure that San Mateo County’s interests are represented in Sacramento, officials said.

Officials blame the current overcrowding on a handful of jail and alternative sentencing program closures in the county since 1993. In total, the county lost 375 beds, including a 140-bed work furlough facility and 96-bed medium-security facility, Trindle said.

Supervisor Rich Gordon saidthe decision to close the facilities was made by former Sheriff Don Horsley.

"Some of us thought the sheriff could have found different alternatives," Gordon said.

But Munks, who served as undersheriff under Horsley, said budget cuts by supervisors forced the department to make a decision on whether to cut basic services such as street patrols or close facilities.

Now may be the time to solve the wider overcrowding issue by working with the governor, Munks said. Early versions of Schwarzenegger’s plan indicate the state would dole out about $4.5 billion statewide for new regional jail construction. San Mateo County could receive about $62 million for a 500-bed facility.

A new men’s and women’s medium-security facility would allow county-sentenced inmates in prison for more minor offenses — those serving one year or less — to be transferred out of Maguire’s more hardened facility. Such a facility would also allow for more alternative-sentencing programs such as electronic monitoring, work furlough and increased counseling for alcohol and drug abusers, with the goal of substantially reducing the county’s 50 percent recidivism rate, Munks said.

One possible catch: If the state requires half of the beds in the new jails it funds to be reserved for state prisons — as one option suggests — the county would be back where it started, Munks said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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