City leaders granted a reprieve to the Seal Beach city jail this week, opting to keep it open even though it’s not the moneymaker, the city once hoped it would be.
This year, the jail is expected to run as much as $143,891 in the red. However, despite the cost, the jail saves the Seal Beach Police Department considerably more money by having jail staffers process inmates and transfer them to the county jail and state prisons instead of police officers, said Chief Robert Luman. More than cost savings, it makes the streets of Seal Beach safer because it frees up officers to work cases and patrols and decreases 911 response times, Luman added.
The case was persuasive enough to prompt the council to vote unanimously in favor of keeping it open just six months after the council publicly questioned its value.
“If we don’t have (the jail), it would cost the city about $200,000, so that really helps me in the decision process,” said City Councilwoman Ellery Deaton.
However, not everyone agrees that the jail is good for the city.
At Monday’s City Council meeting, resident Joyce Parque called for the city to close the “bed and breakfast” because taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for inmates’ televisions and other perks.
Built in 1978 to house 30 inmates, it now has a capacity for 18 inmates but typically only houses about 13 inmates. About five years ago, the city poured about $100,000 into the facility in hopes of making it more profitable. However, the jail hasn’t attracted as many convicts willing to pay to stay in Seal Beach rather than a state, county or federal prison. Police officials have launched campaigns to attract more inmates, including outreach to attorneys and judges and paying for advertising.
“We are doing everything in our power to increase our client base,” said Luman. “Whether or not we will be able to make the jail a neutral operation, I doubt it.”
Last year, the jail cost the city $634,697 and brought in $537,492 from pay-to-stay inmates. With a deficit of just under $100,000, the Seal Beach jail compares favorably to city jails in Anaheim, Azusa, Beverly Hills, Fullerton and Hawthorne, which operated at deficits ranging from $378,788 to $3,270,000.
“You can see that Seal Beach operates at about one-fourth the cost of other cities,” Luman told the council.
What do you think? Do the benefits to the city outweigh the cost of the jail?