By Lisa Kopochinski
INDIO, California—A large expansion at Riverside County’s Indio jail could become a reality soon and start operation in early 2020.
According to an article in Cactushugs.com, the project—which was supposed to open two years ago—could cost taxpayers at least $376 million making it the most expensive project in the history of Riverside County.
The John J. Benoit Detention Center was named after a supervisor who passed away in 2017. The 516,000 square foot will add more than 1,200 beds to a five-jail system that has had to release thousands of inmates over the years to comply with a federal court order to reduce crowding.
This construction project came after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that California’s prisons were so overcrowded that they violated the Constitution’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
In support of the ruling, Justice Kennedy wrote, “For years, the medical and mental health care provided by California’s prisons have fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements and has failed to meet prisoners’ basic health needs.”
California Governor Jerry Brown signed a state bill in 2011 transferring certain convicts from state prisons to county jails. AB109 transferred custody of non-violent offenders that had not committed sex crimes to the counties.
According to the Press Enterprise, Assistant County Executive Officer Robert Field said the next step is to ensure that all of the John J. Benoit Detention Center’s systems are functional, including its security electronics. After that, there will be a 90-day transition during which the Sheriff’s Department will move in its staff, as well as the first group of about 390 inmates.
To save money in the face of a long-standing budget crunch, county officials have planned to open the jail in phases, meaning not every cell will be filled when it opens.
When completed, the John J. Benoit Detention Center will house 1,626 beds, 1,536 general population beds, 74 special use beds, and 16 one-person cells, according to an EDA progress report to the Board of Supervisors.
As for the exact date that the jail will be up and running, Field deferred to the Sheriff’s Department. In an email, Sheriff’s Spokesman Sgt. Albert Martinez said officials are “hopeful” the jail will open by “early 2020.”