Riverside County received a $100 million grant to expand its jail system, only one of three California counties to receive the maximum grant from the California Corrections Standards Authority.

Twenty counties applied for grants and 11 received them. In rank order based on priority of overcrowding, Los Angeles was first for the maximum grant, Riverside second, and Orange County third. The $302 balance of the $602,881 grant total went in rank order to Stanislaus County ($80 million), Tulare and Santa Barbara Counties ($60 million), Kings and Shasta Counties ($33 million), Imperial County ($24 million), Sutter County ($10 million) and Madera County ($3 million).

Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff announced the award, to fund jail system expansion and ease prisoner crowding, on Thursday, March 8. The county’s 3,906-bed jail system has been under a federal court order to ease crowding since 1993. Adding to the problem is recent state-ordered “realignment” and reassignment of low-level offenders and parolees from state prisons to already maxed out Riverside County jails.

Even with the grant, Sniff said, “We are not just a little bit behind, we’re in deep trouble.” He compared San Bernardino County’s jail infrastructure, a county with a smaller and less rapidly growing population than Riverside County, with the county’s current number of jail beds. San Bernardino has 6,300 beds and is “bursting at the seams,” he said. “We’re at capacity and realignment is just beginning [dictated by California Assembly Bill 109]. It will take us years to build the infrastructure to accommodate another 1,200 beds,” he said. In the meantime, inmates are receiving early release, 600 just in January of this year,” said Sniff.

He cited the desirability of having a new mid-county jail for reasons of transportation and other logistical concerns, but said the likely push would be to expand the Indio jail with the grant funds. “The decision on the location will be for the Board of Supervisors, not the Sheriff’s Department,” noted Sniff. The grant will be used for construction, not staffing, and requires the county to come up with a 10 percent or $10 million match in cash payments to install infrastructure or from in-kind services.

Sniff also noted that the Board’s budget decisions leave him little room to cut expenses other than from patrol staffing in the unincorporated. “The jails keep expanding,” he said. “The only place I could cut was in the unincorporated. I fought that but at the end of the day, I had no choice. The unincorporated community policing assets have all been stripped out. We’re now seeing strain marks throughout all the unincorporated. And this is clearly at the direction of the Board of Supervisors.”

He suggested community members, unhappy with patrol cutbacks, voice their concerns with the Board of Supervisors, since his department can do little more that accede to board budget directives. As to reduced staffing on the Hill, he said, “I had no other place to go [to make the budget reductions].

He said he believed the county needs to review its spending priorities. "The county has lost 25 percent of its revenue and yet has reduced its workforce by only 9 percent. We can’t afford 18,000 county employees.”

As a result of reduced staffing in the unincorporated, Sniff said his department is seeing crime surges and that patrol staff reductions place deputies in danger. “This has got to be reversed,” he said. “We have got to correct the staffing issues in the unincorporated.”

And in a sobering assessment, he noted that even if the Board of Supervisors votes in July to increase patrol-staffing budgets, it will take 12 to 18 months to staff up to the desirable 1 deputy per 1,000 resident ratios in the unincorporated areas. But the money has to come from somewhere. “The county has got to get itself solvent,” he said.