County jail project gets back on track 

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Building the new jail in Colusa may have been delayed two years, but the project is not dead.

Retired Colusa County Jail Commander Miguel Villasenor, who remained on the project as a consultant, said construction on the proposed “Colusa County Detention and Treatment Center” could get underway by August of 2020, with occupancy now expected by the end of 2022. 

“We are starting to see things moving again,” Villasenor told the Colusa County Board of Supervisors last week. 

The proposed 26,600 square-foot 96-bed facility, located on property adjacent to the Sheriff’s Office, will include a new exercise yard, increased programming and classroom space, a modern medical office and examination room, dental treatment facility, new housing units that better separate male and female inmates, as well as separate housing for more difficult or violent offenders. 

Officials said Colusa County Sheriff’s Office was awarded $20 million in 2015 to replace its nearly 60-year-old facility under Senate Bill 863, in order to conform to the (then) trend in corrections that primarily address the mental health and substance abuse issues of inmates while they are in jail so they’ll be better citizens when they come out of custody. 

But property-related issues – as well as documentation delays by the state – have cost the county valuable time and money, said Colusa County Administrative Officer Wendy Tyler. 

Tyler said the escalation in construction costs since the project was first proposed now puts the price tag closer to $22.6 million if the county desires to built the facility as visioned in 2016. 

“We beat the bush at the state level and there is absolutely no willingness on behalf of the state or the (Board of State and Community Corrections) to award additional state funds, even though 90 percent of the delays we have experienced, in my opinion, have been the result of state problems.” 

Tyler said additional General Fund money would be needed to complete the project. It is unknown, however, if the Sheriff will have to scale back the project, as was done when the new Tri-County Juvenile Detention Facility was delayed, but Colusa County is not alone is dealing with significant delays getting facilities built and operational. 

According to a 2019 ProPublica investigation, of 65 jail construction projects awarded since AB 109 transferred responsibility for certain felons from state prison to county jails and probation officers in 2011, only 11 have opened. 

Tyler said she hopes the remaining hurdle with the new Colusa County’s jail will be cleared soon so that the two interested contractors can start working on design plans by next February. 

Tyler said she is counting on the contractors competing against each other to provide designs that would give the county the most bang for their buck.

Meanwhile, there is now a new progressive movement in California and nationwide to halt new jail construction projects in order to reinvest the money toward a strategy that favors diversion and mental health programs without incarceration. 

On Aug. 13, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 (against the recommendation of their Sheriff) to scrap their $2 billion plan to replace the men’s central jail with a new 4,000-bed detention center that treats mental health and substance abuse issues while inmates are incarcerated. 

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva argued that the facility provided more attainable and immediate solutions and warned that the decision not to build the facility could have deadly consequences. ■