Santa Clara County supervisors push for more oversight on new jail project
Santa Clara County Government Center. Photo courtesy of Santa Clara County.

While mulling recommendations this week for contract changes for the new jail facility design, Santa Clara County lawmakers took the opportunity to call for additional oversight over the massive project.

Jeff Draper, the director of the county’s Facilities and Fleet department, requested an increase in the project’s supplemental work allowance to install a permanent generator instead of leasing one.

“What we’re bringing you today is a chance to save $1.5 million over the life of the construction of the new jail project,” Draper said.

But Supervisor Susan Ellenberg responded with a request of her own — she asked county officials to provide quarterly updates on jail construction to the Public Safety and Justice Committee. Ellenberg said this will ensure “piecemeal” changes don’t become a multi-million dollar increase for the already $380 million project, by pushing for responsible spending and compliance to the board’s goals of jail reform.

“Obviously, there’s always a delay between conception and construction, but is (the new jail) going to fundamentally reflect the attitude toward criminal justice that our county is adopting?” Ellenberg asked. “That makes it exquisitely critical that we, at a bare minimum, are really watching the costs and at the same time keeping opportunities open to modify as we go to reflect what our values and direction are.”

County Executive Jeff Smith responded that county officials could return with a full recap of the project, but Board President Joe Simitian disagreed that this was manageable internally. He noted that while the board often unanimously supports jail reform funding, it’s getting more and more costly.

“I would feel remiss if, down the road, I was sitting here and had to explain to someone why we hadn’t been rigorous in our oversight, and the project had gotten dramatically more expensive over time,” Simitian said.

After a lengthy discussion, the supervisors unanimously approved receiving quarterly updates on the jail project. Supervisor Cindy Chavez was absent.

The supervisors agreed to tap government consultant Harvey Rose to provide advice about auditing information regarding the new jail project.

The push for free phone calls

But that wasn’t the only discussion on jail and inmate reform this week. A 6 1/2 year debate about subsidizing county inmate technology services could soon reach a conclusion.

Under the plan, the county would pay for all calls made in the jail system — a cost currently rated at $0.075/minute for local and $0.25/minute for international calls, which are now being absorbed by inmates. Currently, calls within the county’s Juvenile Hall have been subsidized, officials said. The cost of free jail calls would come from the general fund.

The supervisors this week reviewed reports on new contracts for inmate calling systems and inmate tablet services through Legacy Inmate Communications. A report from the Sheriff’s Office showed benefits of the phone and tablet systems outweighed costs.

Both systems would be monitored for the safety of inmates and jail staff, unless involving members of an inmate’s defense team.

While Simitian did not support the measure, he requested the Sheriff’s Office tighten language within surveillance use policies for the phone and tablet services to clarify length of data storage, personnel access to information, limits on rights to data and multilingual inmate disclosures.

“I think we have an obligation here that we’re being rigorous about the adherence to the surveillance use policy and that there isn’t an abuse of access,” he said.

Discussion of the policies and contract were referred to the next Board of Supervisors meeting on Sept. 10.

Contact Katie Lauer at klauer77@gmail.com or follow @klauer77 on Twitter.

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