This old big house: $89 million overhaul tackles Elk Grove jail’s aging facilities, mental health needs

Nearly 1,500 inmates require mental health services at Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center

This is an expanded version of a story that appeared in the August 24, 2017, issue.

“Severely outdated” was how Sacramento County’s chief of corrections described the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove.

It was July 25, and David Torgerson was updating the Board of Supervisors about an $89 million plan to overhaul the aging custodial jail that houses some 3,500 inmates on the county’s rural outskirts.

Torgerson, chief of correctional services at the Sheriff’s Department, which runs the jail, told supervisors that RCCC has been struggling to provide adequate services to its inmate population since realignment of the state prison system began redirecting nonviolent offenders to local jails in 2011.

The Sheriff’s Department conducted a needs assessment of the facility in 2013. Noting problems with mold, aging pipes and other dilapidation, Torgerson said the planned overhaul wasn’t a stealth attempt to add more capacity as California presses local communities to focus more on rehabilitation.

“It is literally falling apart,” Torgerson said. “What this project will do from a medical and mental health services standpoint is … to provide better and more services to the inmates at RCCC.”

The need for psychiatric services within the jail is expansive.

According to Jeff Gasaway, the county’s deputy director of general services, 42 percent of RCCC’s inmates—approximately 1,500 individuals—require mental health services.

According to Torgerson, RCCC only has 25 mental health beds, most of which are located in a minimum security “open environment.”

“This is problematic,” Torgerson said. “That layout worked back when we had very minimum security inmates—drunk drivers, petty thieves, that type of thing—over the last few decades. … We no longer house those individuals. Therefore our minimum security prisoners are more along the line of medium or maximum security [inmates].”

The Board of State and Community Corrections awarded Sacramento County $80 million in lease-revenue bond financing under California’s Construction of Adult Criminal Justice Facilities Program. The county is kicking in $8.89 million in “match” funding. Construction is slated to begin in March of next year, and be completed by April 2020.

Supervisors approved the final construction plans in a unanimous vote. They call for a new kitchen, laundry area, classrooms, warehouses and a large-scale booking facility, which doesn’t formally exist at RCCC. (Most bookings are conducted at the main jail in downtown Sacramento.)

The project will also create more than two dozen new jobs—16 security positions, six vocational nurses, five registered nurses and one additional psychiatrist. More kitchen staff are also anticipated, though specific numbers haven’t been determined. Gasaway estimated that $3 million would be spent on making Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades.