Sheriff Pitches Naval Base for ‘Tent City’ Jail : Port Hueneme: John Gillespie says he has found a spot suitable for his plan to house minor drug offenders.


Forging ahead with plans to set up a “tent city” for minor drug offenders, Ventura County Sheriff John V. Gillespie said Wednesday that he has located a site for the encampment at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Port Hueneme.

Gillespie said he met Wednesday morning with the commanding officer of the Seabee base, Capt. R. J. Pearson III, and that he has obtained his support for the proposed encampment, which would consist of two to four tents that would hold 80 inmates each.

Gillespie said he located a prospective site after looking at two or three possible locations for the jail camp on the 1,615-acre military installation.

“It’s on vacant land and it’s fairly far removed from anything going on at the base,” Gillespie said.


Gillespie proposed building the encampment a month ago as part of a new, drug-enforcement policy he is developing with Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury, but he has not obtained federal or county approval for the unusual project.

The new policy calls for stepping up enforcement of minor drug offenses in an effort to reduce the demand for drugs, according to Sheriff’s Department officials.

Jailing prominent citizens--such as teachers, bankers and lawyers--caught using or possessing small amounts of drugs will deter others from substance abuse, Sheriff’s Department officials have said.

But Gillespie wants to house the offenders in tents instead of existing jail facilities, which already are overcrowded.

Under the sheriff’s “tent city” proposal, inmates would be transported daily from the tents to public areas such as beaches and parks and required to do maintenance work. If located at Port Hueneme, they also would be assigned work duties on the base, such as picking up trash, mowing lawns and painting buildings.

And in their spare time, the inmates would attend counseling and education sessions.

The encampment would initially be set up just for men. If it proved practical, officials say, another tent city would be built for women.

The Sheriff’s Department would provide guards and fences for the minimum-security facility, Gillespie said Wednesday. Two deputies probably would watch over the tents, which would be enclosed by a fence, sheriff’s officials said.

Gillespie said officials at the base support the plan and are eager to help in the war against drugs.

However, Jeanie Pelkey, acting public affairs officer for the base, said Wednesday that base officials must research the plan further and then seek approval from superiors in Washington before giving any go-ahead.

The Sheriff’s Department also must find a way to fund the encampment and seek approval for the plan from the Board of Supervisors, Gillespie said.

“We’re still in the infancy of the whole thing,” Gillespie said. “There’s so much bureaucracy on the county and federal level that we’re just beginning to broach.”

Gillespie said it would take some luck for the encampment to be approved and operating within a year.

The tents are expected to cost about $60,000 each. Annual operating costs would be about $500,000, Gillespie said.

Gillespie said he is hoping to receive a federal grant that would pay for the entire program. Otherwise, he said, he will ask the Board of Supervisors for funding.