East Bay News

Plans for jail expansion being met with resistance

Friday, July 13, 2012

An East Bay jail is filling up fast. But the expansion plans that will be unveiled Friday to make room for the ever increasing number of new inmates are being met with resistance. Prisoners that might have gone to state prison are instead being sent to the West Contra Costa County Detention Facility in Richmond.

The Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department says it's running out of room, but former inmates say expanding it is not the answer.

"Jail has never worked for me, never has," Sammy Luna said.

Luna has been in and out of jails and prisons for years. In fact, he's been held at the West Contra Costa Detention Facility in Richmond six separate times for things like drug sales and auto theft.

But today, Luna says he's a changed man.

"Today I'm enrolled in Contra Costa College; I have a 3.9 GPA," he said. "This is my third semester. I'm working on a degree on case management and substance abuse."

Luna credits his turnaround to programs and services he's enrolled in since his release, not his time in jail. That's why he and other former inmates are against expanding the West Contra Costa Detention Facility.

The sheriff on Friday will unveil plans for a $2 million expansion.

"The bottom line is people need help, invest in people, not in locking people up," Luna said.

But the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department says there's no choice but to expand, ever since the state's so-called "realignment," which has shifted the responsibility of housing lower-level offenders to counties.

"Looking ahead, we do need to plan for the future; it's going to be a problem," Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department spokesperson Jimmy Lee said.

Lee says the county is getting way more offenders than initially projected, as many as two to three times more. The expansion will add 150 beds to the facility's 1,900.

"It's the cheapest at $2 million; certainly cheaper than building a new jail facility," Lee said. "And it's actually the safest because it's within the footprint of the West County Detention Facility."

Even so, the group Safe Return Project plans to fight the expansion every step of the way. They'll be at the sheriff's unveiling to voice their opposition. They're pushing for bail reform, transitional housing programs and less emphasis on jailing undocumented immigrants.

"We have a lot of talented people that are incarcerated for very long periods of time that aren't able to be productive members of our community," Safe Return Project spokesperson LaVern Vaughn said.

The sheriff will unveil his expansion plan Friday morning.

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prison, contra costa county, richmond, crime, east bay news, lilian kim
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