County jails overcrowded

Whitewater not an option

Riverside, Calif. - Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff says an additional 10,000 jail beds will be needed to house a growing county jail population over the next 15 years. In 2012, nearly 7,000 inmates were released because there wasn't room for them.

Expansion is underway at the East County Detention Facility in Indio that will allow the county to house an additional 1200 inmates.

Plans are also being discussed to add an additional 1600 beds to the Smith Detention Facility in Banning.

"Between those two expansions," Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit said, "We will be at the average of similar counties around the state. Or better than average in terms of number of beds per citizen."

The Sheriff's Department says that's not enough. They say they're in need of four thousand more beds now. With an overcrowded prison population, they are forced to pick the best of the worst to release early.

"It will get worse year after year until 2017," Sniff said, "When the Indio jail is expanded."

The Board of Supervisors decided to hire a consultant to address prison overcrowding at its meeting Monday. Benoit said building a new jail is not financially feasible.

"The sheriff would like to do a whole lot more. He wants to add another four or six thousand (beds)," Benoit said. "We can't even talk about that seriously until we get 10 years down the road and see where we are financially, See where these expansions have left us. See what the look of the criminal justice system is at that point in time."

Two years ago, the county considered building a jail that would house around five thousand inmates in Whitewater, near Palm Springs. It was met with great opposition from Palm Springs city leaders and tourism officials.

Supervisor Benoit says the Whitewater site is not on the table now, and it won't be anytime in the foreseeable future.

"We don't have the finances to build a mega-jail," Benoit said. "We didn't at that time. We'd be still waiting a long time to get started on that. It'd be costing us a lot more than the beds that we're getting because we'd have to start with a blank slate in the middle of nowhere ... The infrastructure costs, etc. 

Benoit expects by the time there is funding to build a mega jail, Whitewater will not be the site.

"We've moved off of that, and I don't think we'll be coming back to anything on that property for a long long time, if ever," Benoit said. "As a matter of fact, I suspect by the time we might think about that, that land will have become so valuable as freeway frontage in a business corridor that is growing, that it will no longer be part of the discussion."

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