Riverside County Ponders Staged Opening for New Detention Facility

INDIO, Calif. — A long-anticipated and urgently needed new corrections facility is slated to open sometime later this year in Indio, though the date isn’t set and it’s possible not every cell will be occupied upon opening, according to the Press-Enterprise of Riverside County.

The county executive office recently announced that the John J. Benoit Detention Center in Indio will debut sometime in 2018, according to the Press-Enterprise, though Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff has stated that a lack of staff would prevent the jail from opening immediately if construction finished this summer. The executive office oversees the county’s $5.5 billion budget and is independent of the Sheriff’s Department; it has been preparing as though the jail will open this year. That’s still the plan, according to Riverside County’s Public Information Officer Ray Smith — who has said a phased opening will start once construction is finalized and the required state reviews and approvals have been completed. Still, the county doesn’t have a specific date for when the new jail could start accepting inmates.

The $330 million jail facility, which will replace a 353-bed facility in the same spot, will add more than 1,200 beds to a five-jail, 3,900-bed system perpetually hampered by crowding. Additionally, the jail will have classroom space for rehabilitative programs and even a culinary program to instill inmates with cooking skills.

A long-standing federal court order mandates that the Sheriff’s Department must release inmates early to make room for new arrivals. More than 5,700 people were released early last year and almost 3,000 have been set free early so far in 2018.

“The John J. Benoit Detention Center should alleviate some of the pressure regarding early releases and will help keep our communities safe,” Smith remarked.

Staffing is another issue. Sheriff Sniff has said that budget requests made in recent years to start the hiring process for the new jail went unmet by the county Board of Supervisors. Staffing the jail isn’t an overnight process, Sniff said, noting it takes up to a year to screen and train staff.

The budget crunch forced changes to the original staffing plan, Sniff said. Supervisors approved funding for 70 new jail employees — regular deputies, corrections deputies and clerical staff — earlier this year, he added. When those personnel are added to the existing Indio jail staff, they’ll be able to oversee about a quarter of the beds at the new jail. Staff will move into the new jail within three months of its completion to make sure all security elements are functional.

Clark Construction Group is working as the general contractor on the project, and HOK Architects is the architecture firm. Both have offices throughout California.