HANFORD — The Kings County Jail is expanding again, this time to provide new services and programs to help rehabilitate offenders.
Local officials broke ground Monday for the latest expansion of the jail, which will create about 33,000 square feet of additional housing, as well as space for jail programs and offices. The project will also include a 24-bed mental health unit, culinary service kitchen, vocations warehouse and a separate day reporting center building.
Kings County Sheriff Dave Robinson said the new facilities are necessary for serving offenders who can’t be dealt with using a “lock-‘em'-up-and-throw-away-the-key” approach. While that method works for some criminals, Robinson said, it doesn’t work for offenders with mental health or substance abuse disorders.
“We see the mental health issues that are going on in our communities these days,” Robinson said. “We run into those people on a daily basis and, if we don’t do a better job, it’s just going to continue to be a revolving door.”
The project is being paid for by $20 million of Senate Bill 1022 [jail facility] funding, $549,000 of state mental health services funds and about $503,000 of county resources. Kings County secured the state funds in 2012 following the passage of AB-109, which moved nonviolent offenders from state prisons to local jails.
AB-109 went into effect on Oct. 1, 2011. By the end of 2012 the jail was regularly exceeding its 361-inmate capacity, with an average daily population of about 440 inmates. That led to the early release of nearly 990 inmates due to lack of space in 2012.
The Kings County Sheriff’s Office reopened the former branch jail in mid-2013 to house an additional 203 adult inmates. That move increased the jail’s overall capacity to 576.
Around the same time, the county landed $33 million in state funding for the 252-bed expansion project finished earlier this year.
Linda Penner, chairwoman of the Board of State and Community Corrections, commended Robinson and other local officials for pushing for the project. Penner, who previously served as probation chief for Fresno County, said the Central Valley rarely gets credit for its “innovative” efforts to rehabilitate criminals.
“I think people like to believe the Valley is backward, I suppose,” Penner said, “that it doesn’t embrace programming, reducing recidivism rates and moving toward a better citizen.”
The new mental health unit will include multi-purpose rooms, interview rooms, video visitation and recreation yards. The kitchen will provide food services to the entire jail facility and provide additional program space for inmates.
Kings County Probation Chief Kelly Zuniga said alternatives to incarceration are a “giant step in the right direction.” Zuniga said the new day reporting center will provide programs for education and health services to help offenders complete their probation terms and be productive members of the community.
“Probation officers, by nature, are agents of change,” Zuniga said. “We believe that people can change. We strive to provide them with the tools they need to make those changes.”
The day reporting center will be a stand-alone building located south of the existing jail. The facility will provide out-of-custody offenders a centralized location for services, programs and resources to apply for public assistance.
Zuniga said the county will break ground on a juvenile day reporting center in the near future.
Mary Anne Ford-Sherman, director of the Kings County Behavioral Health Department, said the project was made possible by cooperation between local law enforcement, multiple county agencies and other local partners.
“While Dave says he’s a ‘lock-‘em'-up’ kind of guy, you would not believe the compassion that he and his assistant sheriffs show every single day for folks who are mentally ill or suffering from substance use disorders,” Ford-Sherman said. “The compassion runs through them like their blood. They want this to succeed.”