October 3, 2022
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Santa Maria jail may be in Paso

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A North Santa Barbara County jail planned for Santa Maria and additional correctional facilities proposed in Paso Robles would have a significant impact on more than just the inmates that would be housed there.

Santa Barbara County hopes the new Santa Maria jail could relieve regional inmate overcrowding and introduce new jobs, construction capital and the opportunity for shorter commutes.

But the plans are reliant on Paso Robles’ decision to allow a 500-bed “re-entry” facility within its boundaries, a choice the city is reluctant to make in haste.

In July, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s department announced its acquisition of a 50-acre parcel of land in Santa Maria, intended as a site for the new 300-bed north county jail facility.

The jail was to be funded in part by a $56.3 million grant awarded through Assembly Bill 900 funds, designated for state prison construction and rehabilitation.

To secure the capital, the county must support a re-entry facility, a separated secure building intended to house inmates in their final months of incarceration and prepare them for their return to society.

In recent weeks, the county ran into a road block when it was informed that its proposed regional re-entry facility must be run by the state instead of the county – a condition the county has not agreed to.

In an effort to retain the funds, Santa Barbara C*ounty has begun discussions to partner with the counties of San Luis Obispo and San Benito for a re-entry facility in Paso Robles.
The commitment would ensure that Santa Barbara County still qualifies for the $56 million state capital to build the Santa Maria jail.

On Sept. 2, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to support the planned re-entry location in Paso Robles, stipulating that the facility shall house 250 inmates from Santa Barbara County, 200 from San Luis Obispo County and 50 from San Benito County.

The board also agreed that the county would be responsible for transporting its inmates back to the area after they are released.

The proposed re-entry site must be submitted to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation by Sept. 13.
But the city of Paso Robles isn’t ready to make a commitment on such short notice.

“There are a whole lot of things that still need to be vetted and the city is going through the process to air all the community’s concerns and get those questions and answers out there … Santa Barbara County has come into this late in the game and is up against deadlines to be able to qualify for some funding so that is a concern, but we can’t allow that concern to drive this process for the city of Paso Robles,” said Paso Robles Police Chief Lisa Solomon.

While Solomon said the re-entry facility would likely create jobs, good salaries and construction work, it has also raised concerns about its impact to the public safety, aesthetics and environment of the city.

In response to a state prison overcrowding problem, the state is also considering adding a 1,000-bed prison facility to Paso Robles, in the place of its former youth correctional facility and adjacent to the proposed re-entry facility.

Solomon said the city’s approval is not required for the prison, but will be necessary to move forward with the re-entry facility.

She said the city expects the state prison to move forward.
While Solomon said the new prison would be “an economic shot in the arm” for Paso Robles, she added the businesses and residences that have developed around the prison site make it a “less optimal” location for any new correctional facilities.

Solomon said some tax revenue would go to the city for each inmate at the state prison, but she was unsure how the money would be disbursed between the city and the county of San Luis Obispo.

The Santa Maria facility would replace a 30-bed jail already in that city. Inmates in that jail are held for a maximum of 96 hours before they are transported to the Santa Barbara County Jail in the city of Santa Barbara. Because of overcrowding, inmates in the Santa Maria jail are often released early.

“Right now we are being forced to release convicted criminals anywhere from two to three weeks prior to completion of their sentence,” said Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department Cmdr. Tom Jenkins. “It undermines the quality of sanctions the court puts on people committing crimes; improving those sanctions is a benefit to the public and the business community.”

Jenkins said the jail project would provide about $80 million in capital construction near Santa Maria, as well as create at least 100 permanent jobs at the facility.

“I’m sure that will also result indirectly in some additional jobs around the facility,” Jenkins said. “A lot of local residents commute to Santa Barbara to work and this will provide jobs near their homes rather than having to commute.”
Paso Robles representatives are expected to make a decision regarding the re-entry facility Sept. 16.