The main jail in Downtown Merced is about 45-years-old and the County's other correctional facility has been plagued by escapes because it was not built to hold high level offenders. Sheriff Mark Pazin says the county is pursuing funding for a new facility. But he and the State Corrections Secretary say locking people up is not the only solution.
California Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard toured Merced County's Main Jail, and the Trident Center. Members of the sheriff's office, probation department, mental health, and human services agencies all work together under one roof. Their goal is to monitor "supervised release inmates" and get them the services they need to stay out of trouble.
"What I'm hoping to take away from my visit here is to see a county that's doing things the way it's supposed to be done, really trying to provide the care to the inmates, the parolees that they need to keep them out of prison," said Beard.
Beard's visit comes at a time when the state is facing a court order to free nearly 10,000 inmates by the end of the year because of overcrowding. California is hoping for approval to move about half of those criminals to private prisons instead.
"Right now we're still working on that, and we'll get into more specifics as we go down the road," Beard said.
Beard and Sheriff Pazin believe the real long term solution is to use programs that reduce recidivism, instead of just locking people up temporarily.
"You have to take a broader look, if this isn't working we have to bounce back and recalibrate what we are doing," Pazin said.
Merced County's Mental Health Director, Manuel Jimenez Jr. says those programs also save money.
"It only costs $35 a day to put someone in a Cadillac Mental Health Treatment Program than it is to keep someone incarcerated maybe $168 a day," said Jimenez.
Merced County is also forced to house more serious offenders who would have previously served time in prison. And the existing jails have space and security issues. That's why Pazin says the county is pursuing state funding to build a new facility.
"We're working with our board of supervisors and briefing them individually," Pazin said. "We have some options out over there that I can't get into at this point in time obviously, but we're going to pursue that money with all vigor."
Sheriff Pazin did not want to elaborate much on plans to builds a new jailing facility, but he did say the county has put out a request for proposals to build the new facility, so the process is moving forward. He says any new facility would also incorporate rehabilitation programs.