Jailhouse economy

Sheriff gets nod to pursue $40 million grant for new jail facility

Sheriff Kory Honea has ambitious plans for a new jail.

Sheriff Kory Honea has ambitious plans for a new jail.

Photo by Ken Smith

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea isn’t hoping to build just a new jail, but a “new kind of jail,” a goal that came closer to reality Tuesday (Aug. 11) when the county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to allow Honea to seek $40 million in state funding for the facility.

“The oldest portion of the jail was built in 1963 and the most recent portions in 1994, long before realignment,” Honea said outside the supervisors’ chambers, referencing 2011 legislation—AB 109, or the Public Safety Realignment Act—that shifted the responsibility for housing and rehabilitating certain nonviolent inmates from state prisons to county jails.

“It was never anticipated we’d be housing inmates for lengthy periods of time, or that we’d be responsible for providing programs to address the underlying causes of criminality, or that we’d be housing inmates who have serious physical and mental health issues. But that’s the new reality for us, so we need to have a facility that allows us to be successful in addressing those issues.”

Honea hopes to build an ultra-modern facility designed by Vanir Construction Management Inc., a Sacramento-based firm specializing in jails, schools and other public buildings. The facility would be a stand-alone building connected to the existing one via a secure corridor, with 132 beds arranged into modern pods instead of the outdated, “linear-style” rows of cells still present in older sections of the existing jail. The new design also adds room to run programs for inmates aimed at reducing recidivism. Parts of the older facility also would be modernized and repurposed, resulting in an overall increase of about 50 beds. The jail currently has space for 614 inmates.

“The net increase [in beds] doesn’t tell the whole story,” Honea said. “With the ability to use the new facility in conjunction with our old space, we can leverage the space in both and ultimately provide better service for everyone.”

As examples, Honea noted that the existing jail has only three beds for inmates with physical and mental medical needs. Though he was reluctant to provide percentages or actual numbers of inmates with specialized needs, he said the jail commonly houses “a fairly significant number of inmates with medical issues, mental health issues and co-occurring mental disorders and drug and alcohol dependency.”

“If we can get people stabilized while they’re in custody, then we can continue collaborating with Behavioral Health to achieve a continuity of care when they’re released,” he said. “The idea is that if they’re stabilized and stay stable, there’s less chance of them reoffending and finding their way back to our facility.”

State funding for the project could equal up to $40 million offered through Senate Bill 863 for the construction of correctional facilities. The Butte County Sheriff’s Office tried unsuccessfully in 2013 to get funding through another source, Senate Bill 1022, but Honea said he believes the county is a strong contender to win the grant now.

“This time around, the requirements [to get funding] are more tailored toward exactly what we’re trying to do,” he said. “They’re giving funds to facilities that are seeking increased program space, trying to replace older, less efficient linear-style beds, haven’t previously received funding … there’s a number of criteria we really hit the mark for.”

While $40 million would cover construction, the grant requires the county to cover 10 percent of costs, estimated at about $4.5 million. Part of this will be offset by the county donating land for the facility and staff labor on the project, and the rest will come from jail and sheriff’s impact fees and an inmate welfare fund.

Collection of the jail impact fees needed approval by the county’s five municipalities. City leaders in Chico, Oroville, Paradise and Gridley approved the action before Honea’s Tuesday presentation, with the Biggs City Council voting unanimously in favor that night. The grant application is due Aug. 28, and the new facility could be completed by 2020.

The board’s approval to allow Honea to apply for jail funding wasn’t the sheriff’s only victory Tuesday. The supervisors also unanimously approved his pitch to pay architectural firm Nacht and Lewis $64,970 to design a new evidence storage and morgue building. The existing building was built in the mid-1960s, and its replacement has been included in the county’s capital improvement plan since 2004.