OPINION - Sheriff Lopey: The time is now to build a new jail

Opinion contributed by Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey

The purpose of this letter is to provide the great citizens of Siskiyou County an important update on the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office New Jail Project, since its existence in now in jeopardy.

As you may know, several years ago, the Board of State & Community Corrections (BSCC) awarded the county a total of $26,985,415 in lease revenue bonds, pursuant to an AB 900 grant. Since that time, county and SCSO staff, in partnership with the Board of Supervisors have worked diligently to make the new jail a reality.

I have been getting a lot of inquiries about the status of this vital project, probably the most important project undertaken during my nine and a half year tenure as your sheriff. County staff and SCSO developed an alternative plan due to rising construction costs to use the existing Charlie Byrd Youth Correctional Center, its existing 40 beds, and build a new 120-bed annex at that site.

The Board of State & Community Corrections (BSCC) approved a re-scope of the original plan and the board adopted a resolution in support the project.

Due to budget cuts for the new fiscal year 2020-21 budget, the $2.5 million fund set aside for the new jail project was taken to help balance the county budget deficit. SCSO was also hit with a $973,000 budget cut, which has frozen several open field and jail deputy positions.

Although the county administrator and board have a tough job and should balance the county budget, the decision to delay or cancel the SCSO New Jail Project would, in my opinion, be catastrophic to our county and its citizenry.

The county has received two bidders, construction costs and interest rates are reasonable at this time, and if the project moves forward, we will avoid escalating building costs. The current jail only has 104 beds, houses nothing but felony violators, and it is a constant challenge to deal with a growing inmate population with drug and/or mental health challenges. Canceling the project is certain to further endanger correctional staff, inmates, other peace officers, and the citizens we serve because more criminals will walk the streets.

The new jail will also have facilities with which to conduct vital rehabilitation programs to help inmates with their criminogenic needs. If this jail project is not approved during the Board meeting on July 7, the county will more than likely lose the nearly $27 million allocated for this project.

The lack of a modern jail will be costly to our citizens and our quality of life. Crime is rising and must be held in check. If this jail project is canceled, this county and its citizenry will eventually have to build a jail without the $26.9 million in state funds and later pay the entire cost for a new jail, which could more than triple cost-wise in the future.

The old jail has a crumbling and costly infrastructure. Safety, liability, and rehabilitation concerns dictate a new jail should save the county millions in the future.

I am convinced that this is the time to build the new jail to promote the safety of our hard-working and courageous correctional workers, ensure the quality of life for our citizens and visitors to our county, and a new jail will help secure a greater future for all of us. A new jail will help us rehabilitate inmates, but at the same time hold them accountable for their crimes, and the new jail will help protect vulnerable populations, including crime victims, elders and kids.