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Napa County Jail

A Napa County correctional officer checks on the status of an inmate in one of the units at the Napa County jail.

The Napa County jail needs more space, more programs, and more Correctional Officers. But the Solano County jail is already equipped with these things, so it may be easier and cheaper for the county to expand the partnership than to expand in size, according to the 2016-2017 Napa County Grand Jury.

The Grand Jury came to this conclusion after two jail inspections, reviewing documents and conducting numerous interviews with officials from Napa and Solano Counties.

The Grand Jury’s report on the Napa County jail, “Where are we headed?,” states that, despite clear improvements made to the current jail, including significant renovations and the reintroduction of education and job training programs, the jail continues to have problems.

Napa County does not comment on Grand Jury reports until the Board of Supervisors has reviewed the document and has had a chance to respond to it, said Napa County Public Information Officer Kristi Jourdan on Friday.

As part of a three-phase plan, the county has a 96-bed maximum-security facility scheduled for completion in 2022. The jury recommends that the next two phases be scrapped and instead the county enters into a “cost effective” regional jail partnership with Solano County. Housing in the Solano County jail is less expensive than in Napa County, the jail has programs in place for inmates, has plenty of space for more inmates and is well-staffed, the jury said.

The average estimated daily cost of housing an inmate in Napa ranges from $121 to $149 per day, the jury said. The cost to house Napa County inmates in Solano County ranges between $88 and $128 per day.

The Solano County jail already has excellent education and rehabilitation programs in place and plans to add new skill programs in the next few years, the jury said. More than 150 Napa County inmates have participated in rehab programs in the last three years.

Napa County currently has about 40 inmates housed in Solano County – these inmates are expected to return to Napa when jail renovations are complete at the end of this year, the jury said.

The Grand Jury found that, although jail personnel performed their duties in a professional manner, the Napa County jail has a 25 percent vacancy for Correctional Officers. In comparison, the jury said, the Solano County jail experiences an annual turnover rate of 3.8 percent.

“The reality is that the jail has been chronically understaffed for several years because of noncompetitive compensation and lack of career advancement opportunity,” the Grand Jury said.

Correctional Officers at the Napa County jail have little opportunity for job advancement and a compensation package that isn’t nearly as good as other jobs in law enforcement, the jury said. If the Napa County Board of Supervisors wants to recruit and retain correctional officers, compensation for the job needs to be improved significantly, the jury said.

One solution to this problem would be to switch the jail from an independently operated facility overseen by the Board of Supervisors to the jurisdiction of the Napa County Sheriff’s Office, according to the report.

The Napa County jail is one of two in the state that is not run by the county sheriff’s office, officials said.

The Grand Jury found that there is no good reason that the jail isn’t run by the sheriff despite the belief of some county officials that the jail would be less focused on rehabilitation under the sheriff’s watch and that an independent Department of Corrections is less costly.

The cost savings of providing smaller compensation packages, though, can be outweighed by the costs of a continuing cycle of recruitment, training, lack of tenured staff and overtime costs, the jury said.

Between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2016, correctional officers in Napa County accumulated 26,660 hours of overtime, the jury said. The cost of overtime for the 2015 fiscal year was $517,344, and in 2016 it was $727,687, according to the report.

The Grand Jury said that the county’s basic pay scale is competitive but that its retirement and injury leave are not competitive with other law enforcement and correctional agencies. Many recruits leave for other opportunities in law enforcement, the jury said.

The Grand Jury also recommended that the county should work with state officials to obtain resources to create a regional mental health jail. Between 30 and 40 percent of Napa County inmates are affected by mental health- related problems, but correctional officers have limited training in managing inmates with mental illnesses, the jury said.

“The situation is not going to get better without a concerted focus on inmate mental health treatment,” the jury said.

Under the Board of Supervisors’ current plan, a 72-bed re-entry facility will be completed by the middle of 2018 and a 96-bed maximum security facility will be completed in 2022, the jury said. The maximum-security facility, projected to cost $78 million, is supposed to have classrooms, mental health treatment facilities, individual counseling rooms and administrative offices, according to the jury report.

If this plan were to move forward, the county would operate both the new jail and the downtown jail until it could come up with more money for a new jail expansion, according to previous Register reports.

Last month, though, supervisors began discussing the possibility of builder a bigger jail — a 304-bed facility — instead of a 96-bed facility. The larger facility would mean more money up front — approximately $128 million — but lower operating costs. County staff are working on a design and fiscal analysis for the 304-bed jail proposal that will be discussed at a future Board of Supervisors meeting.

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Maria Sestito is the former Napa Valley Register public safety reporter. She now writes for the Register as a freelancer.