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Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : Second Interim Warden Named for Lancaster State Prison

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A second interim warden has been named to oversee the new state prison in Lancaster while corrections officials wait for Gov. Pete Wilson to make a permanent appointment.

Donald R. Hill, 51, warden of the California Correctional Institution at Tehachapi, moved to the Lancaster prison on Monday, prison spokeswoman Lynn Harrison said. He will also continue to serve as warden at the Tehachapi prison, although an assistant will oversee day-to-day operations at that facility.

Hill succeeds John Ratelle, who was appointed interim warden in late February. While at Lancaster, Ratelle also was serving as warden for a state prison in San Diego, commuting back to that city each weekend to be with his family.

Ratelle originally was told he would be at Lancaster only for one to three months, and after five months of commuting he asked to be relieved, Harrison said.

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The Lancaster detention center, officially called California State Prison--Los Angeles County, opened in February, 1993, under Warden Otis Thurman.

During the prison’s first year, two minimum-security and two maximum-security inmates escaped. Although all of the prisoners were recaptured, the escapes are believed to have been a key reason that state officials removed Thurman from his post this past February.

During Ratelle’s tenure, he tightened security at the prison and disciplined correctional officers who were on duty during one of the maximum-security escapes. No escapes occurred during Ratelle’s watch.

The new interim warden, Hill, wants to maintain a low profile, Harrison said, because the governor is said to be close to appointing another permanent administrator for the Lancaster prison, which houses more than 3,000 inmates.

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When that appointment is made, Hill will return to the Tehachapi prison, she said.


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