In a phone interview Tuesday, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood told the Daily Independent he intends to ask the Kern County Board of Supervisors for funding to reopen the Kern County jail in Ridgecrest. Youngblood said he intends to ask the supervisors to fund the jail as a separate budget item during the upcoming budget hearings in July and August. He estimated the cost to run the jail would be about $700,000 a year which would presumably come from the county’s general fund.
Youngblood made the unpopular decision to close the jail in 2016 as a result of drastic county budget cuts in the wake of the declining and unstable price of oil. Another unpopular decision was the staffing choice to not have deputies in the unincorporated Ridgecrest vicinity at night. Youngblood said at the time, and again Tuesday, that the decisions were forced by budget constraints.
According to Youngblood, staffing the jail would automatically put more deputies in the area, and those staffing the jail would likely be available to respond to calls for service. In addition, he said, he is in negotiations with the county administrative officer on a number of topics, and one of them is more deputies in the Ridgecrest area.
“If and when the jail opens, we are going to have 24-hour coverage,” he said. “We are fighting for this.”
He also said he would like to see more deputies on the streets around the Ridgecrest area “sooner rather than later.”
The decision whether or not to fund the budget item will rest with the Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Mick Gleason told the Daily Independent Tuesday that he will be having conversations and meetings next week “to see if we can do it. I am going to advocate strongly to reopen the jail and we will see where it takes us. It’s obviously a question of money and where we are going to spend the dollars.” As to whether the item is likely to have the necessary support, Gleason said it is too soon to say.
For his part, Youngblood said that his conversations with the supervisors are promising. He put out a call to Ridgecrest citizens supporting re-opening the jail to make their feelings known by speaking up at the budget hearing.
Youngblood said plans for the Timbisha Shoshone casino project had nothing to do with his decision. He said he takes no position either supporting or opposing the casino.
The Ridgecrest Police Department, meanwhile, has had to mitigate the effects of the the jail closure, including transporting more prisoners to Bakersfield or Mojave for booking. According to RPD Chief Jed McLaughlin, the department put around 90,000 miles on vehicles transporting suspects/prisoners to Mojave and Bakersfield in 15 months. He said over the same time period RPD made 251 trips to Bakersfield and 99 to Mojave to book prisoners.
McLaughlin said he was aware of Youngblood’s hopes to re-open the jail. “He told me that was his intention. It would be great if he did. It would save us a lot of time and resources and hours on the vehicles.”
Mayor Peggy Breeden had no comment. Ridgecrest City Manager and former RPD Chief Ron Strand was unavailable for comment at press time.