Fresno County Jail will open additional floor

August 31, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims says the so-called revolving door at the Fresno County Jail will soon slow down.

"At midnight tomorrow, Saturday, September 1, another floor will be open, increasing our capacity by 432 inmates," Sheriff Mims said.

The county is able to open the long closed floor thanks $5 million in state funds designed to help counties cope with the increasing numbers of inmates diverted from state prisons to the county jail.

In the short run it means fewer inmates will simply be released because of overcrowded conditions. But while more can be locked up, county probation chief Linda Penner says many others will be diverted to other kinds of programs: "budgets and the economy doesn't allow us to do business simply by incarcerating people."

Penner and Mims are overseeing federal grants to help divert nonviolent offenders from jail into other kinds of programs including drug treatment.

Mims told a news conference on Friday:"This is very important because it will prepare inmates that when they come out of jail they are more prepared to be more successful in our community and not reoffend which is very important because that means fewer victims."

Penner added: "Even with those beds open we will continue to have problems with capacity in this community unless we are creative and work very hard to craft alternatives to detention."

Penner says the county now has 750 beds available in drug treatment centers.

At the same time, the county is working to make sure jail cells are there for those who need them. Board of Supervisors Chair Debbie Poochigian says the county hopes to open the last closed floor of the jail by the first of the year.

"We are doing everything we can to secure funding for that last floor, we have made it our top priority."

While this is part of a statewide goal to keep more people out of jails and prisons, Fresno County leaders say they have been short of jail space for so long they need to catch up to make sure there's room for everyone who needs to be in jail, while finding alternatives for those who don't.

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