The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Curtis J. Hill Rehabilitation Center expansion of the San Benito County Jail took place June 15. The new facility will house 72 long-term inmates from the state prison system who require more medical and psychiatric care. The old section holds 142 inmates.
Expectations were high in December 2018 that the 24,000-square foot expansion would be completed by the following spring. At the time, Adam Goldstone, San Benito County capital projects manager, told BenitoLink if there were no delays the $26 million project would be completed by May 2019, and double the size of the jail as a minimum-security facility.
As it turned out, there were delays, cost overruns and a pandemic that pushed the ribbon-cutting to June 15, which some at the ceremony thought appropriate because it was the same day the state officially opened up after 15 months of shutdowns due to COVID-19. However, jail personnel and inmates must continue to wear masks for the time being.
During the ceremony, active and retired sheriffs, Hollister police officers, Highway Patrol personnel, former and current county supervisors, and even retired Superior Court judge Thomas Breen, were present as outgoing Sheriff Darren Thompson officiated.
Thomson introduced several speakers, including his predecessor Curtis J. Hill, whose name is on the side of the building. He told the audience the expansion was necessary because of the 2011 California law AB 109, which capped prison populations to ease overpopulation and resulted in nearly 40,000 non-violent, non-high-risk sex offenders, and non-series offenders being sent to county jails.
AB 109 also provided partial funding for jail construction, which the county took advantage of and received $15 million. But the county was required to come up with 10% of the cost for the project. In 2011, Hill, who had retired and become a lobbyist, negotiated with the state to lower the rate to 5%. Because of escalating construction costs, what was to be a $13 million project quickly grew to $17 million. By the time the facility doors opened, the final cost was $26 million, according to Capt. Don Bradley, who oversaw the construction.
Bradley, who served 29 years at the Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office and seven years with SBC Sheriff’s Office, oversaw the project and said it was a “14-year commitment.” He said the building includes a new booking area, administration office, medical and dental unit, a training and briefing room, and a public lobby and video visitation room.
Bradley said the purpose of the facility is to provide “more beds for more clients with more needs who are sentenced to longer terms.” He said AB 109 was the state’s response to federal judges ordering it to provide more medical and psychiatric care while reducing overpopulation in state prisons.
“As a result, thousands of inmates were relocated to county jails and the term non-non-non, or non-violent, non-sexual, non-serious, was given to the first wave sent to county jails instead of state prisons,” he said, adding, “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one of those. These inmates come with longer sentences and increased needs for medical and psychiatric services.”
He said the intent of the facility is to give inmates skills they can use to better themselves socially and economically.
“To accomplish this requires programming, education and counselling aimed at assisting our clients to succeed at life outside of custody, or in many cases as an extension of custody where they report to transition centers to continue or enhance programs they started while in custody,” he said.
None of the 72 inmates have arrived yet. Capt. Eric Taylor, who was appointed sheriff and coroner and will take over the office June 27, told BenitoLink they are expected to start arriving in August.
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