The sheriff's office showed several pictures of gaping holes in the John Latorraca Correctional Center during Tuesday's board meeting. Authorities say inmates cut through the walls and roof for several escapes and dozens of assaults in the last year alone, including some on staff members.
Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin said, "It is easy to chip away at the plaster, it's easy to get into the rafters, some of these inmates they're just big rats, they get in there, they start going along the piping and they try and get out."
The facility was built in 1990 for low level offenders, but is now forced to hold serious criminals who would have previously served time in prison. The main jail in downtown is 45 years old, and officials say the design makes it difficult to supervise inmates and separate gang members. That's why the sheriff's office wants to build a new facility.
Captain Greg Sullivan said, "It's 432 beds, it's designed to be very efficient, very secure, and very safe."
Captain Greg Sullivan presented three different models, but the board voted to move forward with Option A. It's a six story octagon that would sit on the current JLCC property. The existing buildings would be used for additional beds, classrooms, and rehabilitation programs. The initial cost is nearly $68 million, but the project consultant says it will save money in the long run through a more efficient design and stronger materials.
"A lot of times people say you build jails out of concrete and steel to keep inmates in," said project consultant Doug Papagni. "That's one thing, but it also makes it very durable, it lasts a long time."
The sheriff's office also plans to save money by closing the main jail, and is working to secure $40 million in state funding from senate bill 10-22. But some supervisors expressed concern about coming up with the other $28 million.
The board's vote authorized the county to apply for that state funding using Option A. The application is due by October, and a final decision will be made by January.