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Napa County Jail Tour

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

Napa County is still trying to build a new facility to replace the aging downtown jail, though it has once again shifted the size and funding method.

County voters declined last June to pass Measure Y, meaning the proposed quarter-cent sales tax will not be available to help pay for a $103 million, 256-bed jail on the county owned property along Highway 221 near the Syar quarry.

So now comes Plan B.

“The thing is, we still need a new jail,” Deputy County Executive Officer Helene Franchi said.

The county is seeking to build a 64-bed unit with core facilities such as laundry area, kitchen and administrative offices for an estimated $66 million, though Franchi said this price is a moving target. This would be phase I of a new jail.

A 64-bed first phase wouldn’t be big enough to replace the 264-bed downtown jail. The county would operate both the new jail and the old jail until it could raise more money for a second phase at the Highway 221 complex.

But first things first. The county still must find enough money to build the $66 million first phase.

Franchi said Napa County has come up with about $58 million through savings, property sales and $22.8 million in contributions from the state. That leaves a gap of about $8 million to $12 million, depending on the final price tag.

Financing the gap with a loan is a possibility, but that could mean making regular payments to cover the principal and interest out of the county’s general fund. The Board of Supervisors will wrestle with such topics perhaps next spring.

“We’ll be talking to the board together with our financial adviser to see if there’s a way to make all of this happen,” Franchi said.

This Plan B is familiar to supervisors. It is actually the original plan they had in 2015, before they decided building a bigger initial phase of a new jail funded by a Measure Y sales tax hike would be a better approach.

They wanted a bigger first phase in part because providing duplicate services at both a 64-bed, first phase new jail and the existing, downtown jail is expensive. County staff said in June 2015 the county could need another 50 to 60 jail staff members at a cost of $5 million to $6 million annually.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Alfredo Pedroza supports returning to the 64-bed, phase one approach, but is also open to a Plan C, should one emerge. He said he’s willing to explore the need for new jail space on a regional level, possibly partnering with Solano County.

Under one regionalization scenario, a county such as Solano might house long-term inmates and Napa County might house inmates in need of mental health services.

“I think the future is collaboration and more regionalization of services without compromising the way you deliver services,” Pedroza said.

Newly elected Supervisors Belia Ramos and Ryan Gregory have both said they are open to the regional jail idea. Both will sit behind the supervisors’ dais for the first time at the Jan. 10 Board of Supervisors meeting.

“I am a strong proponent of collaboration with other jurisdictions,” Ramos said. “Great things happen then.”

Ramos mentioned the impacts of California’s 2011 move to shift some felons who previously would have gone to state prisons to county jails. The county must look at more than incarceration, she said.

“While we do need to have a commitment to improving our detention facility, it needs to be done in a meaningful way that can provide rehabilitative services and break the cycle of criminal activity,” Ramos said.

Napa County’s existing, downtown jail was criticized by the 2014-15 grand jury. The grand jury cited overcrowding and a jail design not suited to deal with how various inmates must be grouped, such as those with mental health problems.

The county’s long-range plan is to replace and knock down the downtown jail, freeing up a key piece of downtown Napa property for redevelopment. The downtown jail was built in 1976 and has a 1989 addition. On top of an antiquated design and aging infrastructure, the old jail suffered extensive damage in the 2014 earthquake, much of which remains unrepaired, rendering some cell blocks unusable.

Meanwhile, the county is moving ahead with plans to build a $17.2 million, 72-bed jail re-entry facility at its Highway 221 jail complex site. This facility would help inmates about to be released with counseling and other programs in an attempt to keep them from re-offending. The state is paying $13.5 million of the cost.

Construction of the re-entry facility could begin in spring and take 15 months, county officials said. But they say that building the re-entry facility doesn’t take away the need for a new jail.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.