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New Santa Barbara jail set to open county looks into remodeling current facility

SANTA BARBARA County, Calif. - After years of planning, funding and construction, the long awaited new Santa Barbara County jail will be opening soon in the Santa Maria area.

Santa Barbara County Supervisors have been told the final work is underway.

The Northern Branch Jail will have 346 beds with an operational cost of $20.4 million annually. The current facility has 852 beds and has been routinely overcrowded.

The estimated project cost is $119.5 million. The bulk of the money came from the State of California AB900 grant which covered $80 million. The county general fund provided $39.5 million dollars.

Currently, the main jail has seen changes, in part due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The current population is 644 inmates. Before the pandemic, it was in the 900-955 range. Sheriff Bill Brown says the inmate population may increase beyond the current population when the COVID-19 crisis is over.

The county says the new jail will open either next month or in January 2022.

At the same time the county is looking to rehab the aging current jail. The cost has been estimated to be about $24 million. Both facilities will be operating at the same time.

Supervisors Das Williams said he was concerned about future staffing costs in the "unknown amount of millions."

Supervisor Steve Lavagnino says the old jail near Goleta has had 30 years of neglect. "That facility down there is a money pit," he said. He also said to fix it will be like swallowing some "tough medicine."

He says the easy way is to build a new facility but the county can't afford it. "We can barely afford the one we just built," said Lavagnino.

Looking at the forward plan for the existing jail, supervisors will look into "rehabilitation" of that facility, he said.

The jail is in need of structural improvements, heating and ventilation, as well as work to become compliant with the American Disability Act.

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT NewsChannel 3. To learn more about John, click here.

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