FAIRFIELD — Solano County is the proud owner of a new, $89-million, high-tech, sprawling building constructed for a population that won't want to use it.
The county in recent weeks put finishing touches on the 365-bed Stanton Correctional Facility on Clay Bank Road. Inmates could begin moving into the jail this month.
"It's new and shiny – but it's maximum-security and all that that entails," Sheriff Thomas Ferrara said.
Solano County conducted a ribbon-cutting for the jail June 6, with all sorts of local dignitaries in attendance, then resumed work on the finishing touches. The county wanted to make certain everything was just right before the jail went into operation. Two weeks ago, blue duct tape on the interior walls and doors marked small flaws that needed correcting.
The county five years ago had its existing two jails and their 1,084 total cells full and faced overcrowding. Some inmates had to sleep on the floors on mattresses. Then the recession hit, Vallejo made budget cuts to its police force and the number of bookings from that city shrank.
Today, the county jails have a total of 984 inmates. Even though the state's new realignment program is once again increasing local inmates numbers, Ferrara expects the Stanton Correctional Facility to provide plenty of space for a long time to come.
"This will set us up for the next 30 years," he said.
Students usually can't wait to move from an old school to a new one, or office workers from an old building to a new one. But inmates at the three-decade-old Claybank Jail next door to the new Stanton Correctional Facility might want to stay put.
Ferrara said the Claybank Jail is minimum- to medium-security. Inmates there face fewer restrictions than will those at the Stanton Correctional Facility.
Certainly the Stanton Correctional Facility is no Club Fed. Cells are the size of small bedrooms and are stark, with metal walls, a metal bed to support a mattress, a small metal table, a metal seat extending from the wall and a metal toilet. Then there's the locked doors with small windows.
Cells are grouped in units, with each unit having 27 to 36 cells and day rooms that prisoners can use at times. Metal tables in the day rooms have chess board layouts emblazoned on their surfaces. There are a few television screens mounted on the walls.
While the Stanton Correctional Facility has stark surroundings for inmates, it has high-tech features for correctional officers. The county is using technology to help it avoid some of the staffing costs associated with a new jail.
Ferrara said the jail, when fully operational, can be run by 40 correctional officers. That compares to 155 officers for a jail the same size without the technology.
The nerve center is the central control room. Here, correctional officers can use 16 computer monitors to control what is going on all over the 128,000-square-foot building.
Correctional Officer Joe Banovitz on a recent day demonstrated how officers can tap a touchscreen to open and close electronic locks throughout the building. He showed how cameras can zoom in on a car in the far side of the parking lot clearly enough to read the license plate.
He also showed small tablets officers can carry in their pockets to the various jail units. They can use these tablets to lock and unlock cell doors and to find out information on inmates, from whether inmates have medical appointments to whether they have assaulted officers. The tablets can be immediately disabled and work locks only within small areas of the jail.
"Everything an officer needs is in their side pocket," Banovitz said.
Even jail visitations can be done the high-tech way. Families can come to the jail for video visits or do so over the Internet from their homes.
Ferrara said an inmate who has a tech-savvy grandmother in New York who plays an important role in his life can visit her with this system. Children can visit incarcerated relatives without having to come to the jail.
Another room has a large screen that could someday be linked with Solano County Superior Court courtrooms. Then an inmate could make a quick court appearance for a routine matter, perhaps rescheduling a court date, by video. That would take away the need to bus the inmate several miles to the downtown Fairfield court complex.
"This is the future," Ferrara said.
Put it all together and Solano County has a jail like no other in California. Ferrara said other jails have pieces of this technology, but not all of it.
But high technology is hardly fail-safe. An earthquake such as the one that recently hit Napa can knock it out. Or technology can simply hit some operating blips, as has been known to happen in the digital world.
That's why each unit is overlooked by interior towers than can be manned by correctional officers, just as in the pre-high tech days. Locks can be operated manually. The jail can still be run when the computers crash.
"It's redundant," Ferrara said.
Another low-tech feature is a face-to-face visiting room for inmates and their families. Here, the starkness of the jail has been toned down. Sgt. Suzanne Culbertson pointed out a large mural of local Green Valley Falls on the wall, complete with birds and other creatures hidden within its design for children to find. Local artist Susan Schneider did the painting.
Solano County received $61.5 million from the state to help build the jail. The jail is named after the Stantons, a local family that provided three former sheriff's deputies, most recently Sheriff Gary Stanton, who retired in 2012.