Hundreds of inmates are released into our streets from Lerdo Jail every month because of overcrowding. While it won't be any help in the short-term, Kern County could soon get a new jail.
Sheriff Donny Youngblood announced Friday afternoon he has secured a $100 million grant to build a new facility. But there is a $10 million catch for Kern County taxpayers.
After turning down a state grant that would have cost taxpayers $25 million, Sheriff Youngblood has secured another grant that will cost taxpayers $10 million. "We won't have to release convicted felons early. We can keep them longer," explained Sheriff Youngblood.
At a news conference inside Sheriff's Headquarters, Youngblood called the $100 million grant, a once in a lifetime opportunity to eventually replace Lerdo Jail, which is falling apart.
"It will have 576 medium security beds. These are one and two man cells that allow us to segregate gang members and keep violence to a minimum. It's critical when someone is sentenced to pay the price," said Youngblood.
It also will have 128 dedicated mental health beds and 15 suicide watch cells. But is the county willing to pay the price?
"That's the big question our board is facing. I think we all realize we need a better facility. But where the money is going to come from is a big question," said Supervisor Ray Watson, Fourth District.
The grant requires the county to make a 10 percent match, which is $10 million. "I think the concern for the Board of Supervisors and most departments is the ongoing maintenance of the facility," explained David Kuge, Chief Probation Officer.
Maintaining the facility would cost another $30 million a year according to David Kuge, the Chief Probation Officer. "That would be a huge impact to the general fund every year. Anyway you look at it, it's going to be additional costs to the taxpayers," said Watson.
The grant money comes from Assembly Bill 900, which helps counties build new jails to alleviate prison overcrowding. It is a problem that has become worse under the state realignment plan.
The plan which took effect in October, sends state parolees who violate their parole conditions, to county jails, including Lerdo, allowing others to be released back to the streets under supervision.
"Pre-realignment, you would do 33 percent of your time in our country jail," said Sheriff Youngblood. But now, felons are released after serving just days of their sentence. "Right now, I think they think it's a joke. Three or four months in custody is nothing. They know they can't go to prison," noted Kuge.
The Sheriff hopes more jail beds will keep felons locked up longer. But will the county agree to cover its percentage of the grant? The new jail would be built next to Lerdo Jail. Sheriff Youngblood hopes the new jail will open in four to five years.