FAIRFIELD — Solano County’s Claybank Jail until a few weeks ago had a central control room with an electric monitoring system that looked as much a product of the 1970s as an avocado-green shag carpet.
The old equipment dated back to the jail’s construction 1979. Seventy fixed cameras transmitted black-and-white images and didn’t cover the entire jail. The control panel had numerous buttons, sleek and modern for the disco era, but clunky and old-fashioned for the computer age.
Sheriff’s Lt. Mitch Mashburn compared the setup’s technical sophistication to that of an eight-track player.
All of that has changed. The Claybank Jail is just about finished getting a $3.2 million facelift, including a new central control room.
More than a dozen computer screens show color images transmitted from 109 cameras. With a click of a mouse, correctional officers can zoom in on any scenes that catch their interest. An outdoor camera during tests read the initials on the belt buckle worn by a man on Clay Bank Road a quarter-mile away.
“This is a big deal for this jail,” Sheriff Thomas Ferrara said.
The Claybank Jail was built during the Carter administration at a cost of $8.3 million as a minimum-security jail. People convicted of petty theft, drunken driving and similar offenses served their sentences there.
But that had changed by the early to mid-1990s, Mashburn said. Solano County has two jails – the Claybank Jail and the downtown jail, both in Fairfield – and a lack of space meant that the Claybank Jail had to house the harder-core criminals as well.
Now state realignment has come, shifting low-level offenders who used to go to state prison to county care. An even harder breed of convicted criminal is being housed at Claybank.
The security improvements include more than the monitoring system. For example, iron doors are now enclosing a pod of cells, where previously no door stood.
Some of the changes are cosmetic to deal with the passage of time. Toilets and sinks are being replaced. Walls are being painted.
Inmates are the type of tenants who don’t always treat the jail the kindest, Sheriff’s Office Background Investigator Keith Bloomfield said.
Yet even some of these changes also have security implications. Mashburn said an inmate could have broken one of the old porcelain toilets to create a large number of stabbing devices. The new toilets are stainless steel.
The remake has been some years in the making. The county looked at jail capacity more than a decade ago and the resulting study brought up the issue of the Claybank Jail’s aging security electronic systems. The county in 2009 looked at the costs of an upgrade.
A 2010 county grand jury report criticized the central control room, saying replacement parts no longer got manufactured. Wiring for doors and monitors needed replacement, it said.
“This area is the heart of the detention facility and necessary to maintain officer and inmate safety and security,” the grand jury report said.
Former Sheriff Gary Stanton and the Board of Supervisors both agreed in written responses to the grand jury report.
Even as the county improves the existing 379-bed Claybank Jail, it is also building an $89 million expansion next door with another 362 beds. That will give the jail more room to handle the expected influx of inmates from realignment and population growth.
Claybank has been catapulted into the 21st century. It’s moved from the days of the eight-track to the days of the iPod.
“Now it’s much safer – much more secure for inmates and the officers,” Mashburn said.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.