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Saturday, February 23 , 2019, 3:08 am | Fair 37º


Outside Review Finds North County Jail Will Need More Funding, Staffing Than Estimated

Analysis scores Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department cost projections as inadequate

Santa Barbara County’s medium-security jail facility currently contains triple bunks. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara County’s medium-security jail facility currently contains triple bunks. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk file photo)

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will get an update from an outside consultants hired to evaluate the estimated costs and staffing of planned new jail facilities.

The evaluation found that the Sheriff’s Department estimates were lower than what is needed for operations.

The County CEO’s office contracted with Columbia, S.C.-based Carter Goble Associates LLC to analyze the expense and staffing estimates put forward by Sheriff’s Department staff.

The AB 900 jail facility, scheduled to open in July 2018, will have a capacity of 376 beds and house inmates of all custody levels.

A July 2019 opening is planned for the SB 1022 jail facility, which will have 228 beds and will house minimum custody inmates nearing release, according to the consultants’ report.

Some of the older portions of the main County Jail will be closed under the plan.

For all three facilities, the evaluation found that a larger number of staff would be needed at a greater operating cost.

The consultants’ recommendations are higher by 12 full-time positions than the sheriff’s staff had projected, once all three facilities are occupied and operational.

The analysis also found that the projected total cost of operation for the main jail was $2.2 million more than the amount presented in May by sheriff’s officials.

Some of the report’s findings stated that the jail needs 1,134 beds, but the proposed total jail beds would only number 1,075 in the system.

For the main jail and the new North County complexes, the consultants said a larger number of staff and greater operating expenses are required.

“CGL estimates a need of 375 staff, compared to the sheriff’s proposal of 363 staff,” the county staff report states.

The consultants estimate annual operating expenses of $68.47 million, compared to the sheriff’s estimate of $67.93 million.

That means about $1.8 million more in operations costs would be necessary for 2019-2020, rising another $2 million annually by 2022-2023, primarily due to staffing, the consultants said.

In years past, the jail has been at more than maximum capacity with its 847 beds, but in January 2015 the number of inmates in county jail facilities was just under 800. The county ordered the study earlier this year to see if additional beds were needed and to evaluate the cost of operations.

The outside analysis considered what future demand for the jail might look like, given population growth, at-risk populations and other factors.

In general, the consultants found that the county population has been increasing, but annual bookings and the average daily jail population has been decreasing. Those projections still lead to an increase in beds needed in the future, according to the report.

Part of the recent decrease in jail population might be traced to recent initiatives like Proposition 47, the 2014 voter-approved initiative that reduced some nonviolent crimes to misdemeanors from felonies.

Sheriff’s Department officials said Friday that the cost estimates provided by the consultants were very close to the recommendations the department had provided earlier this year.

“The cost differential is due primarily to the consultants’ recommendation for 20 additional positions at the current main jail facility,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover told Noozhawk.

“While the sheriff’s office recognizes that this proposed staffing increase represents a ‘best-case’ scenario, we have operated at minimal staffing for several years at the main jail,” she said.

“We are evaluating this report to see if full implementation of the recommendations is necessary. The sheriff’s office remains committed to opening the northern branch jail in the most cost-effective manner as possible.”

County officials also wanted to evaluate the condition of the existing jail facilities to see what kind of maintenance expenses could be expected.

Another consulting group, Denver-based Marx Okubo, was hired to look at those expenses. The company estimated that $15.6 million in deferred maintenance work must be completed at the current jail facilities over the new 10-year period, although the firm noted that closing the jail’s medium-security facility, known as the Honor Farm, is proposed and would avoid $1.5 million in costs.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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