Saturday, July 22, 2017

[Tuolumne County] Bravo: On Doing the Right Thing

Blog note: this article mentions that the grand jury began noting jail deficiencies 20 years ago. Sometimes implementation of grand jury recommendations takes a while.
New jail — While an argument can be made that the construction of a new jail for Tuolumne County is way overdue, the good news is it’s happening now. For years, the inadequacy of the existing jail on Yaney Avenue in a residential area in downtown Sonora has been starkly apparent.
Offices in what were once closets, Inmates mixing too closely with each other and their jailers. A roof-top exercise that offers nothing close to exercise. And now, this week’s grand jury report points out more alarming problems, including sewerage captured in tarps and funneled into garbage cans. Some effluent may back up and leak into hallways near the kitchen. That is just disgusting, inhumane and egregious. Imagine the smell.
Tuolumne County Sheriff Jim Mele is right to say the county has escaped the iron fist of the federal courts for a long time.
The current jail is 56 years old. It’s been added onto twice. What was once the yard is now the intake building. City height restrictions prevent the construction of more floors. Every square inch of the landlocked property has been used — and then some.
Some 20 years ago, the grand jury began noting the deficiencies and has noted them in increasing numbers every year since.
This week, the Board of Supervisors approved a schedule for construction of a $40 million facility on the same site where the Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility is located. We’ve already beat the drum about whether that facility should have been built, but it’s there so the county has to deal with it. The jail is the facility that has been needed longer and more vehemently.
If all goes as planned, construction on the jail will begin the week after Thanksgiving with completion expected sometime in mid-2019. The cost to operate will be higher — $8.3 million, compared with $7.1 million, mostly due to required additional medical care and staff salaries.
There are those who say people who commit crimes don’t deserve to live in such a place. Mele promises this is bare bones, not the Taj Mahal. And anyone who has ever been inside a locked facility knows it’s anything but a pleasurable experience.
Also, the jail population includes many people who have not been convicted of crimes, most especially staff, volunteers and those charged but not convicted.
The Board of Supervisors deserves praise in finally going ahead with this construction — much of which is being paid for by state funds. It’s not the most popular vote they’ve taken, but a courageous and necessary one.
July 7, 2017
Union Democrat

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