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Sheriff's Dept. Echoes Jury Sentiment to Replace Las Colinas Jail

The San Diego County Grand Jury report this week called for the replacement of the Las Colinas women's jail in Santee. The sheriff's department immediately issued a statement supporting the report. Sa

The San Diego County Grand Jury report this week called for the replacement of the Las Colinas women's jail in Santee. The sheriff's department immediately issued a statement supporting the report. San Diego County has long identified the need to upgrade the prison, which the Grand Jury says is severely overcrowded and dilapidated. Full Focus reporter Amita Sharma has more on this story.

Grand jurors say describing the jail as inadequate is an understatement. Floors cave in. Walls are rotting. There isn't enough room for classes and jail programs. And there are too many inmates packed into the facility.

San Diego Under-Sheriff Bill Gore says, yes, it's bad -- but it could be worse.


Gore : It's overcrowded, but they're not living in the desert in tents like some places. It's not Devil's Island. It's overcrowded, but it's clean and it's safe and I think our people have done a tremendous job of keeping it an older facility, and we plan to replace it when we can.

Gore says rebuilding Las Colinas is on the county's to-do list. The county hopes to get a cut of the state's $1 billion in bonds for jail construction. But Las Colinas must compete against other needs.

Gore : This is not the only issue in county government. We have health issues. We have putting patrolman on the street to answer calls for service. We've built two male facilities over the last 20 years, and that raises the question of ‘are you giving preference to male over females.’ Well, we have six times as many males as we have females.

That's no excuse, says Kevin Keenan. He's the executive director of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Keenan says conditions are bad at Las Colinas because there isn't enough of a commitment by the county to come up with a solution.

Keenan : This is affecting real people's lives and harming them. These women are suffering in terrible conditions. The floor collapsed underneath the visiting grand jurors and it was an expected visit. So if things were that bad then you can imagine how they are when people aren't looking. The county says those things have been fixed but they're in a constant battle to make these buildings better enough just to survive. These were buildings that were meant to be closed down 25 years ago.

Keenan says like the grand jury, the ACLU also has a longstanding dispute with the county over the conditions at Las Colinas.

Keenan : The shameful legal thing here, too, is that the county is under a court order that caps the population at 500. They're in violation of that court order from a longstanding ACLU lawsuit, and of course the grand jury has visited this problem repeatedly over the past five years, calling for action.

Keenan says if the county were truly interested in fixing Las Colinas they would relocate the women at the jail or release them into drug treatment programs.