The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to move forward with the planned expansion of the West County Detention Facility in Richmond, which involves moving up to 400 high-security inmates from the overcrowded Martinez facility. Supervisor John Gioia, who represents Richmond, was alone in voting against using a combination of state and county funds to realize a $95 million maximum-security wing at 5555 Giant Highway, which currently harbors medium-security facilities.
Gioia wasn’t the lone dissenter, as dozens of opponents, including Richmond city councilmembers, spoke out at Tuesday’s meeting against using county dollars for the project. Earlier this month, the California Board of State and Community Corrections approved earmarking $70 million for the project from Senate Bill 863 construction bonds. The legislation, a response to the prison realignment of 2011 that transferred nonviolent offenders to county jails, mandated that counties construct modern facilities emphasizing rehabilitation.
The Richmond project fulfills that mandate, according to the sheriff’s office. It includes building a 120,000-square-foot wing at 5555 Giant Highway that would feature ample space for child visitation, for re-entry and rehabilitation centers, and for a mental health treatment facility. Currently, the overwhelmed Martinez facility lacks the space for comprehensive services and programs, which has led to tensions in the jail, sheriff’s officials said.
However, opponents who include Richmond city councilmembers, Mayor Tom Butt and local activists view the project primarily as a jail expansion that would contribute to mass incarceration. They oppose spending county funds on the project, including a required $25 million from the general fund along with $5 million annually for operations.
Echoing the sentiments of fellow opponents from the host city of Richmond, Gioia says county dollars would be better spent outside jail walls for such programs involving rehabilitation, re-entry and mental health.