Siskiyou’s current jail, built in 1987, does not have enough room for inmates or the facilities necessary to help them. A quest to build a new jail has been ongoing for years. Most recently, in 2016, Siskiyou County voters failed to pass a measure that would have established a sales tax to help fund construction.

Despite concerns about the fiscal impact of building a new jail, the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors decided last week to move forward with the project.

While the county is dealing with serious budget deficit issues, supervisors agreed with Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey that the situation would be even more dire if they delayed the building of a new jail.

Siskiyou’s current jail, built in 1987, does not have enough room for inmates or the facilities necessary to help them. A quest to build a new jail has been ongoing for years. Most recently, in 2016, Siskiyou County voters failed to pass a measure that would have established a sales tax to help fund construction.

While Lopey said he understands the financial concerns presented by County Administrative Officer Angela Davis in the 2020-2021 recommended budget presented on June 23, he told supervisors he believes if the jail is not built now the problem will only get worse.

Most significantly, they’ll lose the nearly $27 million grant the county received from the state to complete the project.

The board asked Lopey to come back in the near future to give them more concrete numbers and ways they’ll keep their budget to the current operating costs for the next five years.

"We're willing to do our part," Lopey told the board. "It's imperative we do this now.”

District 3 supervisor and board chairman Michael Kobseff said the goal is to approve a bid for construction of the facility in November with the jail ready to house inmates sometime in 2022. There are currently two bidders for the project.

He said if the Sheriff’s Office is able to keep the cost within budget, “I'm OK moving this forward.”

At the meeting, Lopey gave an impassioned plea to the board encouraging them to move forward with the project.

Several years ago, the Board of State & Community Corrections awarded Siskiyou County $26,985,415 in lease revenue bonds from an AB 900 grant to help fund a new jail.

To keep costs as low as possible, Lopey said county staff and the SCSO developed an alternative plan to use the existing Charlie Byrd Youth Correctional Center with its existing 40 beds, and build a new 120-bed annex at that site. The Board of State & Community Corrections approved a re-scope of the original plan and the board adopted a resolution in support of the project.

"We've been down this road many times before," Lopey told the board. "It's time to act."

Due to cuts in the 2020-21 budget, $2.5 million the county set aside for the jail project was utilized to help balance the general fund budget. The sheriff was also asked to reduce his requested budget by $973,000, which has frozen several open field and jail deputy positions. All county departments were asked to cut costs in order to shore the budget, Davis said when she presented the proposed budget last month.

If the new jail project is delayed or canceled, Lopey told the board he believes it will "be catastrophic to our county and its citizenry."

Lopey said at the meeting he believes construction costs and interest rates are reasonable at this time. If the project moves forward now, they will avoid escalating building costs.

He said the current jail was built to house 68 people, but has been modified and now has 104 beds available. It houses only felony violators because of space issues. Drug and mental health challenges are only increasing and it has been a constant challenge to deal with these issues.

Lopey said in his opinion, canceling the project would endanger correctional staff, inmates, peace officers, and civilians. “More criminals will walk the streets,” he said.

Lopey told the board the new jail will have necessary facilities to conduct rehabilitation programs to help inmates with their "criminogenic needs."

He said the old jail, located at Oregon Street in downtown Yreka, has a crumbling and costly infrastructure. It needs a new roof and new door control panels and has numerous plumbing problems with sewage pipes leaking through floors. The heating and air conditioning system is near the end of its life span, as well as the kitchen and laundry equipment, Lopey said. In addition, any expansion of the current jail would trigger code upgrades to current facilities.

Because of a lack of room, all those who commit misdemeanors are being “cited out” because there’s no space.

Lopey said mental health challenges are “the greatest threat.” He said more than 60% of inmates take some form on of mental health medication and that more than 30% of inmates are diagnosed with serious mental health issues.

Kobseff said that there is a jail fund that will help with retrofitting the juvenile hall, as well as selling the original site of the new jail, which will hopefully net $571,000 to supplement the county’s general fund.