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The Plumas County jail can now legally house more inmates, but it may be fiscally impossible.
For more than two decades the Plumas County jail could house no more than 37 inmates due to a consent decree ordered by a federal judge in 1992.
The judge took action following a 1989 lawsuit filed by a group of attorneys who charged that the jail was substandard in almost all categories ranging from staffing levels to the heating system to an inmate’s access to mental health services.
“There have been significant improvements since then,” Sheriff Greg Hagwood said. “This is an instance when a lawsuit actually precipitated improvements and the jail became a better facility.”
So much so that the surviving attorneys withdrew their complaint and the federal judge lifted the decree after Hagwood, Assistant Sheriff Dean Canalia and Jail Commander Chad Hermann pursued the action.
The officials knew that AB109 and the release of state prisoners to local jurisdictions would strain local jail capacity. Hagwood said the average population of the jail has hovered in the mid-30s, just under the consent decree’s 37 maximum.
The jail is now authorized to house up to 67 inmates, but can it?
“No,” said Hagwood. “More inmates mean increased costs for medical services, food and staff.”
More inmates don’t come with more money. The Plumas County Board of Supervisors sets the jail budget and Hagwood said there is no indication that the supervisors will have more money to allocate to the jail for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
If staffing and money weren’t issues, what would be the optimal number of inmates for the jail to hold?
“The mid-50s,” Hagwood responded. “If we go beyond that and get to full capacity, there are increasing difficulties.”
One of those is the ability to segregate inmates by gender, mental health issues, protective custody requirements and discipline concerns.
Hagwood cited small town relationships as an added issue for the county, since jail personnel need to consider what pre-existing relationships may exist that could prove volatile if inmates were housed in the same cell.
Hagwood said that the jail would have to increase staffing if more inmates are sentenced to jail. “If we’re going to add inmates, we’re going to have to add a proportional increase in staff,” he said.
The alternative is early releases and electronic monitoring, both of which have already been used by the department.
While the consent decree has been lifted, problems still remain at the jail and the sheriff remains hopeful that a new facility is still a possibility. The county has been negotiating with Plumas Bank to purchase a building it owns on Mill Creek Road in East Quincy that would be transformed into a new sheriff’s headquarters and probation department, with space for an adjacent jail. The state would fund construction of the new facility, but the county would remain responsible for its operation.
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