Our jail situation isn’t a crisis, but it’s close.
Plumas County desperately needs a new jail. There is no denying that fact. But we’re not going to get one, at least not in the immediate future.
We are going to have to squeeze a few more miles out of the jalopy jail until we can afford a down payment for a new one. The board of supervisors made that fact perfectly clear last week.
Decades of reports, testimony, deliberation and lawsuits have been aimed at the decaying facility that was built in the early 1970s. The jail’s flaws are even more apparent since the implementation of Assembly Bill 109 (inmate realignment) two years ago. Now the outdated structure isn’t just old, it’s full.
And, whether or not we want to admit it, there is no relief in sight. The county is no closer to getting a new jail than it was when its problems were first exposed in the 1980s.
A new jail should have been a priority for the county 20 years ago. Even 10 years ago, when the county had a little cash to spare, the Board of Supervisors could have earmarked funds for a new jail. The sheriff said as much during last week’s supervisors meeting. “Prior boards could have put aside $100,000 per year,” he said. “They knew this has been a problem since 1984. Now we find ourselves with an excellent opportunity and we can’t pursue it.”
The really frustrating part is the state is dangling a $20 million grant right in front of us. But we can’t compete for it because we don’t have the $1 million entry fee.
That’s because Plumas County — one of the poorest counties in the state — is essentially broke. Like many of its residents, the county has enough money to pay for the bare essentials … barely. But it doesn’t have enough money to buy something new.
Members of the current Board of Supervisors can’t take the blame for this one. They are proving to be a fiscally responsible group, figuratively clipping coupons and cutting costs to make ends meet. If this board had been in place 10 years ago, things might be different today.
Despite our substandard jail, the people who work there and their colleagues in the criminal justice system should be commended for the doing the best that they can in a bad situation. The agencies and departments taking an active role include mental health, alcohol and drug, social services, probation, sheriff, district attorney, the alternative sentencing coordinator and the literacy program.
Thanks to their combined efforts the county has put together a much-improved support system for inmates at the jail. The services available aren’t designed to make the criminals’ sentence at the jail more enjoyable, but they are designed to get inmates the help they need to straighten out their lives — to hopefully keep them from a future visit to the old jail.
And “old” is the key word. Because we aren’t going to have a new jail anytime soon.