Monterey County Jail expansion ready to open

Peninsula Premier Admin

SALINAS — After more than a decade of planning, development and construction, the Monterey County Jail’s 576-bed expansion is ready to open.

The Monterey County Sheriff’s Office announced at a news conference on Thursday that the newly added space can finally be put to full use thanks to a certificate of occupancy received from the California state fire marshal this week. With the necessary paperwork secured, the Sheriff’s Office is cleared to start moving inmates into the jail’s 134,000-square-foot expanded section — a process that officials said should be completed within the next three to four weeks.

“We’re really excited and proud to have this building finally open,” said Jim Bass, chief deputy of corrections.

Added onto the existing facility’s west side, the near $100 million project includes eight housing units, bringing the jail’s total capacity up to 1,401. While two units of the expansion have been operating for months as a COVID-19 isolation area — allowing new inmates to be separated from the general population until their test results became available — the real opening will allow the jail to offset close quarters across the whole facility.

Before recent additions, the jail was built for an occupancy of 825 inmates, a number it had been pushing up to a tight squeeze of around 860 to 870. But now, with room actually available, inmates will be able to live more comfortably, Bass explained.

“I can’t imagine a room with 90 other people and triple bunks and almost having to sleep with one eye open, there’s a lot of anxiety around that for people that come into custody,” he said. “(We think) this will have a positive impact on the mental health of those people staying with us.”

Beyond the bonus of new housing, the jail expansion hopes to improve atmosphere through reimagined shared spaces as well. Instead of having various support facilities spread out on the property, each housing unit has its own area for programming, as well as medical exam rooms and recreation yards attached to the unit itself.

The benefit, Bass said, is that deputies will no longer have to escort inmates through long halls past one another if someone wants to use programming or medical spaces. Instead, inmates can access facilities included in their own unit, reducing the risk of possible confrontations. The operation will also be more efficient in terms of staffing, as fewer deputies will be needed to accompany inmates all around the facility.

“We think this is going to be a safer and more secure environment for the people that we hold here for whatever period of time and for people that work here,” said Bass.

Thursday’s opening of the jail expansion comes about two and half years after the project’s initially anticipated finish date. After breaking ground in September 2017, its completion was estimated for July 2019. That goal got pushed back, however, when issues related to anything from elevators to the smoke exhaust system warranted delays. The pandemic added another layer of difficulty, slowing contractors and disrupting construction. Together, the issues culminated in a much longer timetable than originally imagined, making the project’s conclusion all the more gratifying.

“It really is (a relief),” said Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal. “We’re watching this from the very beginning.”

For the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, the beginning really goes back nearly 13 years, when former Sheriff Mike Kanalakis helped obtain $40 million in state funding for the project in 2009. Another $40 million state grant helped bolster the idea further in 2012, with the county covering remaining costs as work persisted on the expansion over the last decade.

“To finally occupy the jail, it’s nice to see us opening the doors,” said Bernal.

Eight housing units have been added to the Monterey County Jail as part of its long-awaited expansion project. (Tess Kenny/Monterey Herald)

Contributed by local news sources

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