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San Mateo Jail - A School For Barristas & Dog Washers?

The new San Mateo County Jail planned for Redwood City, California is going to be in a class all to itself. Where many jails are thought to be nothing more than schools for criminals, giving them more skills in the felonious arts, San Mateo is hoping to create an environment that will engender learning of a different caliber. According to The Examiner, "San Mateo  County’s  proposed new jail was conceived as a school for baristas and  dog washers."

The new jail, expected to open its doors in October 2014, has an approved budget between $145 million and $160 million.

One of the main goals for the county is to reduce the number of inmates reentering the county corrections system over time. In order to accomplish this goal, San Mateo is looking to promote the success of its inmates once they have served their time.

Among the proposed offerings at the new detention facility are GED classes, resume workshops and computer training, as well as drug and alcohol programs and mental health services. These are all designed to help inmates ease back into society with confidence.

An added twist will be that inmates will also have the opportunity to learn about gardening in the jail’s proposed garden, caring for chickens, making lattes in the new kitchen and grooming dogs in the new dog washing station.

Plans for the new facility still need to be finalized but it is expected that it will include a 12,000 square foot kitchen, complete with storage space and nearly $1.8 million in new kitchen equipment.

Gone are the typical jail cells enclosed with bars. The cells in the new detention center will be walls and glass. There will be skylights and temperature-controlled rooms. Walls will be painted with softer colors in order to reduce stress. Rather than having only individual cells, plans call for two- to eight-person cells and a communal area. This is not only more cost-effective but it helps to boost inmate morale too.

Some critics feel that this type of environment is more country-club living than criminal punishment. However, this type of facility will actually be more effective at reducing recidivism rates among inmates. The punishment of a jail sentence is the loss of freedom. Rather than letting inmates languish in a facility with no means to improve themselves, money should be spent on giving them the tools needed to make a better life after their release.

California’s current recidivism rate is 70 percent, but Sheriff Greg Munks hopes that the new approach to incarceration could actually drop that rate down to 40 percent for San Mateo County.

The county has had to deal with a $50 million deficit at the beginning of the year, forcing supervisors to cut programs such as substance abuse, basic foster care and mental health assistance. It is feared that the funding for the programs being proposed by the sheriff could also be taken away.

The San Mateo County will be looking at more unique ways to solve the problem of funding these programs.

Source: The San Francisco Examiner, "San Mateo County brews a fresh idea for new jail," by Nikko Kyriako

Published: 10/19/2011