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Bill to Close Santee Jail in ’91 Advances : County Objects, Says Makeshift Lockup Not Due to Shut Until ’96

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Times Staff Writer

The Senate on Thursday passed and sent to the Assembly legislation that would force San Diego County to close its temporary jail in Santee in 1991--two to five years before county officials say they agreed to dismantle it.

The bill, by Sen. Larry Stirling (R-San Diego), would require that the 600-bed temporary lockup be removed when the first phase of the county’s planned East Mesa jail is built and open, expected in October, 1991.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. May 20, 1989 For the Record County Spokesman Misquoted About Jail
Los Angeles Times Saturday May 20, 1989 San Diego County Edition Metro Part 2 Page 2 Column 6 Metro Desk 2 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Because of a dropped word, Friday’s article on the bill before the Legislature to close the temporary San Diego County jail in Santee incorrectly stated that county lobbyist Patricia Gayman had said that the county did agree to close the jail by 1991. She actually said the county has not agreed to close the jail by then. The county plans to close the jail by 1996.

The county wants to keep the Santee jail, which is next to the permanent, 176-cell County Jail at Las Colinas, at least until the completion of the first phase of the East Mesa jail and the first phase of a new prearraignment jail in downtown San Diego or in Kearny Mesa. This is expected to be sometime in 1993.

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At the latest, the county is committed to shutting the temporary jail in January, 1996.

Stirling maintained that his bill would do no more than place in state law an agreement between the county and the city of Santee.

He described the temporary jail as “highly inefficient to administer” and said there have been “numerous escapes.”

“The danger to the community is high,” Stirling said. “All we ask is that the Board of Supervisors honor its commitment.”

But county officials strenuously opposed the bill and differed with Stirling’s portrayal of his proposal.

John Sweeten, the county’s director of legislative affairs, said there has been one escape at the jail, involving two inmates who threw a mattress atop a barbed wire fence and climbed over. He said they were captured immediately.

And Patricia Gayman, a county lobbyist, said the county did agree to close the jail by 1991, as Stirling asserted. An environmental impact study for the project states that the jail will be closed by 1996, she said.

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Gayman said an early closure would force the county to release prisoners who would otherwise be held at the temporary jail.

“We wouldn’t have any place else to put them,” she said.

But Stirling called the county’s statement about having to release inmates “absolutely a lie.” As for the agreed-upon closing date, he insisted that county officials had changed their agreement with Santee after he introduced his bill.

The only vocal opposition raised on the Senate floor Thursday came from Sen. Robert Presley (D-Riverside), the upper house’s ranking prison expert. Presley said he doubts the wisdom of involving the state in a such a bitter local dispute.

“We know how much trouble we have trying to site state prisons,” Presley said. “I don’t know if we should start trying to do this with county jails as well.”

The bill passed, 27 to 4. Stirling was the only San Diego County senator to vote in favor of his measure. Sen. Marian Bergeson, a Republican who represents part of North County, and Sen. William Craven (R-Oceanside), voted against the bill. Sen. Wadie Deddeh (D-Bonita) did not vote.

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