SANTA MARIA, Calif. — Despite skepticism, construction officially broke ground on Oct. 11 on the much-anticipated Santa Barbara County Northern Branch Jail in Santa Maria.
Plans for the $111 million project have been under way for years but became much more serious when the jail site was secured in April 2008. In 2012, the Sheriff’s Office received $80 million in grant funding from the state to build the new jail, especially for its plans to include re-entry programs (a newer concept at the time). Even though the original project cost was estimated to be less than $100 million, the Board of Supervisors finally approved the project in May 2016 at about $14.75 million over budget. The grant will fund a large portion of the project costs, while the county will fund the rest.
The jail, which had been awaiting final state approval since July, will be the largest public works project in the county’s history. Costa Mesa, Calif.-based SJ Amoroso Construction Inc. and locally based Spiess Construction Co. Inc. are constructing the facility. Kitchell, with offices in Santa Barbara, is serving as the construction manager, while Atlanta-based Rosser International Inc. is serving as the architect.
The 376-bed, 133,000-square-foot complex will provide the county with everything from inmate housing to medical and mental health treatment to program spaces — all of which will help ease the county’s jail overcrowding issue. The county already has 847 beds at its main jail in Goleta, which was built in 1968. It has been expanded with various ad hoc additions over the decades, but it has been subject to several lawsuits in recent years due to issues including inmate deaths and poor medical service, according to the Santa Maria Sun.
For nearly 35 years now, the sheriff’s office has struggled to maintain the overcrowded jail in need of repairs and short of space for medical programs. “[The jail] will result in changed and revitalized lives, lower rates of crimes and a safer Santa Barbara County,” County Sheriff Bill Brown told Noozhawk.
The facility will be a hybrid jail and prison to help accommodate inmates who are housed longer than a year as a result of the state’s realignment plan, according to Noozhawk. It will house both male and female inmates in high security, medium security and isolation cells. Its design will feature the direct supervision model in most of its housing areas on site, Sheriff Brown told Lompoc Record. This will put custody staff in housing pods so they can directly interact with inmates and supervise them.
A key part of the new facility’s plan includes space for new programs, vocational training and substance abuse treatment for inmates. Thirty-two of the 376 beds will be also used for medical and mental health beds in a specialized housing unit. It will also feature an outpatient medical clinic and multipurpose rooms to provide classroom space.
With the Northern Branch Jail addition, the county will have 1,223 beds. However, once inmates are reorganized, the county will remove 148 beds from the Goleta facility to create a system-wide capacity of 1,075, reported Lompoc Record. The jail is scheduled to open by spring 2019.