Our local jails are so overcrowded that 6,000 inmates are released early each year. But building a new jail near the small town of Whitewater has become one of the most controversial topics for neighboring residents and politicians.
Jail inmates getting out early because of overcrowded cells has been going on for years. Desert Hot Springs and other police departments are tired of arresting released criminals a second time for other crimes.
Riverside County thought they picked the best location for a new jail, near the small town of Whitewater west of the Coachella Valley. But Whitewater residents banded together in protest.
Now Desert Hot Springs City Manager Rick Daniels hopes to welcome the jail to land just south of his city, looking at the lockup to bring in dollars.
“We have the highest unemployment of any city in the Coachella Valley right now and what is probably amongst the highest in the nation. We have a 14 percent unemployment rate. That is one in seven people in Desert Hot Springs unemployed. There are going to be 1,500 new jobs created at the county jail.”
Daniels hopes land near Dillon Road and Highway 62, near windmill farms and a large power station will be picked by the county instead of Whitewater.
But just like Whitewater, some residents just outside Desert Hot Springs do not want a jail in their backyard.
When asked how she thought the city’s economy might benefit, neighboring resident Lori Black responded, “I think that’s great and maybe if I didn’t live so close to where this jail’s going to be, maybe I’d support it. I have two daughters, I have myself to think about. It’s just kinda scary. I couldn’t go for it because it’s too close to my home.”
Even Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack expressed concern over the Whitewater jail site selection, even though the issue is not a Federal matter.
Bono Mack’s recent statement included, “I share these concerns about the potential impacts such a facility may have on residents, visitors, and on our reputation as a world-class resort region.”
Palm Springs tourism interests have been among the most vocal critics of a jail anywhere nearby, a concern shared by City Manager Daniels.
“We will not do anything which is going to jeopardize the tourism industry here in Desert Hot Springs,” said Daniels.
Concerned residents near the potential jail site can get more answers at a community meeting. It will be Wednesday at 6:00 PM at Desert Hot Springs City Hall.