REGION — Preempted by the need for a greater jail capacity in light of California’s prison realignment, the Sheriff’s Department has seized its opportunity for a new women’s jail to implement new programming and supervision methods.
The current women’s jail, Las Colinas Detention Facility in Santee, is the oldest jail in San Diego County. The facility was built as a juvenile jail in 1967 and was converted to house women in 1979. It is made up of small, tan-colored dormitories spread out in a maze of gates and fences.
Today, Las Colinas regularly houses more than 800 inmates daily, much more than were intended under the jail’s original design. Sheriff’s officials have commented that the facility lacks adequate space in its medical and psychiatric facilities.
“When I first came to Las Colinas last year, we were at about 735 inmates, and currently this morning we were at 843,” said Capt. Edna Milloy, who oversees Las Colinas, on Feb. 3. “Those numbers have gone as high as 900 and I expect that they will get that high again.”
The increased number of inmates in Las Colinas, as well as in the county’s six other jails, is the result of California’s prison realignment. Started in 2011, realignment requires felons who committed non-violent, non-serious, non-sex crimes to serve their sentences in county jails to ease the crowding in state prisons.
To provide for these additional inmates, the county has granted funds to the Sheriff’s Department to construct a new women’s jail and expand the East Mesa Reentry Facility.
The new $270 million women’s facility is under construction directly adjacent to Las Colinas. The new jail will be able to house more than 1,200 inmates.
The jail will consist of 16 two-story housing units, which will hold 56 inmates each, according to Deputy James Swiney. The units provide different amenities for low-level security inmates to high-level security inmates.
“(The new jail) has the most secure, high-level housing that we have in the county right now,” Milloy said.
The new housing style will improve the ratio of inmates to staff, allowing one sworn staff member per about 56 inmates, said Cmdr. John Ingrassia. In Las Colinas, one sworn staff member typically supervised about 67 inmates.
Each of the housing units includes a meeting room where inmates can attend educational and counseling programs.
Providing programming in jails has become particularly important to the Sheriff’s Department as realignment has resulted in not only more inmates serving their sentences in county jails, but often realigned inmates are serving longer sentences in jail custody.
The new jail will also contain an expansive medical unit and separate psychiatric security unit that are about 10 times as big as the equivalent facility at Las Colinas, Milloy said.
The Sheriff’s Department estimates that it will be able to open the first portion of the women’s jail this summer and begin transferring inmates there.
The Sheriff’s Department is currently hiring new deputies to staff the new facility and is hosting an opening hiring session through Feb. 12. For more information about applying for a position with the Sheriff’s Department, go to joinsheriff.net.