Chula Vista’s city jail loses major green

Jailhouse blues

Built in 2004 at the height of Chula Vista’s development, the facility’s cost was forecast to be paid for by the general fund and developers’ fees.
  • Built in 2004 at the height of Chula Vista’s development, the facility’s cost was forecast to be paid for by the general fund and developers’ fees.
  • Image by Andy Boyd

Was it wise for the City of Chula Vista to build a 48-bed jail? Is it really still serving the taxpayers ? Why, on almost any given day, is the jail filled with young Hispanic women? And why does the jail operate at a loss?

Back on January 8, by way of example, the Chula Vista jail had 24 detainees. They were all women, all Hispanic, and ranged in ages from 19 to 47, the average age being 29. The information on the Who’s in Jail? website for that day said that none of the women were bailable, all of them were United States Marshal inmates, and some were also on immigration and customs enforcement detainers.

A public record request to the city for more about the inmates yielded this response from police support services manager Barbara Brookover: “The Chula Vista jail merely leases space in our facility on behalf of the US Marshals Service…. The police department does not maintain records, criminal histories, nor data on legal representation.”

Chula Vista’s police station won’t be paid off until 2032.

Chula Vista’s police station won’t be paid off until 2032.

The Who’s in Jail? website publishes inmates’ names, birth dates, hair color, and ethnicity, so it was not difficult to locate inmates’ case numbers and attorneys. On January 11, I spoke with an attorney for one of the defendants. Kathryn Thickstun’s client (let’s call her Celia) is 23 years old.

Thickstun is an attorney appointed under the Criminal Justice Act to represent individuals in criminal cases who are financially unable to retain an attorney. “Each case is important. I defend the Constitution one person at a time.” But, Thickstun said, “Defending someone like Celia sometimes makes me feel like I’m beating my head against the wall.”

Celia was arrested for bringing methamphetamines across the border.

According to Thickstun, Celia had a valuable commodity — a border-crossing card. She used her card to come across and buy things in the United States that she then sold at a Tijuana swap meet. Thickstun said, “It was out of character for Celia to do what she did: she does not use drugs and never committed a crime. She was a student, worked as a volunteer in an emergency service in Tijuana, and, unlike some defendants, her whole family appeared in court.”

Celia committed this crime because her mother is terminally ill with a lung disease and needed medications that were beyond the family’s means, according to Thickstun. “Along the border, people with border-crossing cards, even teenagers, are regularly approached by drug smugglers.”

She said the people who came to Celia knew about her border-crossing pass, and they knew about her mother. They told her she would be transporting “medicine” that was illegal into the United States. “Celia had an inkling this wasn’t the truth, but she was desperate.” Nowadays, Thickstun said, what Celia feels desperate about is getting back into college.

“People like Celia are called mules or couriers. They are totally expendable to the drug organizations,” Thickstun said. In fact, she said that even though the inmates’ full names are posted on Chula Vista’s website, it would be safer not to use her real name.

“If drug organizations even think that someone has been talking, it could be dangerous for that person.”

In the sentencing process, Celia received reductions because of her circumstances, but she will never be able to enter the United States again. She was sentenced to a year and a day; some of her time will be served in the Chula Vista jail, the rest in a federal prison.

The basement jail added $3.1 million to the $66 million cost.

The basement jail added $3.1 million to the $66 million cost.

Some Chula Vistans wonder, is maintaining such a large jail in the best interest of the city?

When the city built the $66 million police station in 2004, they also built the 48-bed basement jail for an additional $3.1 million. A 2004 Union-Tribune article said, “The city will be paying about $3.9 million a year [for the station] until 2032 to pay off the debt.”

Those were the salad days of eastward development for Chula Vista and the article went on to say, “The city’s general fund will pick up 51.8 percent of the police station’s cost. The rest will come from fees developers pay to build homes in the city.”

The rationale for expanding from a 6-bed jail to a 48-bed jail has shifted through the years. In 2009 the grand jury investigated the efficacy of the only city-run jail in the county. The grand jury findings described the facility’s evolving purpose this way: “It was intended to hold prisoners for a maximum of 96 hours prior to initial arraignment and to reduce the transportation and other expenses related to booking prisoners into the San Diego County jail system. It was promoted at the time as a good tool to improve the quality of life for the community of Chula Vista by holding prisoners for arraignment who would otherwise be released on their own recognizance due to constraints at the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department facilities. Further, Chula Vista police investigators would have easier access to confined suspects requiring advanced examination.”

In 2009, at the time of the grand-jury investigation, the jail was involved in a gambit similar to the one with the U.S. Marshals Service. The jail housed 25–30 prisoners in a drug-rehabilitation program. According to the report, the city received $77 per day per prisoner, but the total operational expense was between $103.80 to $168.37 per day. The grand jury ascertained that the total operational expenses in 2007–2008 exceeded $1.7 million, while revenue from other agencies was about $700,000.”

Among other things, the grand jury concluded, “the City of Chula Vista needs a fiscal assessment to evaluate the efficiency and practicality of operating a jail facility by the Chula Vista Police Department.”

In July of 2011, the Chula Vista city jail entered into a contract to house female inmates for the United States Marshals Service. According to the police-department website: “Housing USMS inmates provides needed bed space for the Federal Government, while providing revenue to the city to offset the cost of the facility.”

But a look at numbers suggests U.S. Marshals inmates lose money for the city, just like the drug-rehabilitation inmates in 2009. According to information provided to the San Diego Reader by the City of Chula Vista, the Marshals Service pays $110 per day to house each of the inmates in the jail. But according to the same packet of information, “The City of Chula Vista’s daily cost to house an inmate is $155.71 per day.” That’s a daily loss of $45.71 per inmate.

Moreover, the revenue information provided by the city shows the jail continues to operate at a loss. The jail revenue for the fiscal year 2015 was $1,560,668. The revenue breakdown is: booking fees, $6218; training reimbursement, $7540; and Marshals Service contract, $1,546,910 (inmates housed at $110 per inmate per day).

But the jail expense (July 2014 to June 2015): $1,865,831. That’s an operating loss of $305,163.

The City of Chula Vista did not respond to requests for comment on the discrepancy. The city, though given ample opportunity, failed to provide requested information regarding the total construction debt that remains on the jail.

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Comments

Simple solution: charge the Marshall service more money.

But trying to deny another law enforcement agency access to the facility because you don't like illegal aliens that commit crimes from being jailed is not the answer.

Well it's a good sign that even with over 260,000 residents this facility is being underused! I remember back in 2004 talks within PD was of getting our own 'Bird' too! So much lavished dreams back then... Now we can't find pennies on the ground to provide basic infrastructure or keep our GRAFFITI within reasonable control without the help of Adopt-A-Wall & other members of the community. WE STILL HAVE THE TRUCKS THAT WOULD BLEND PAINTS & COVER GRAFFITI, BUT NO FUNDS TO OPERATE. This article changes my level of patience about 4levels DOWN(scale of 5)... Now our community has done wonders in the last 5months to start MANAGING our homeless community finally. This article make me see of the great potential WE ALREADY HAVE & APPARENTLY FUND for non-residents of Chula Vista. Let's make a few adjustments and use them FORTY EIGHT BEDS as a transitional period to help actual residents(with or without a home) of our City. Sorry to hear no-one from the City would comment on this embarrassing situation our residents have to KEEP PAYING for! Now its time THE RESIDENTS START ASKING OUR MAYOR & COUNCIL TO EXPLAIN this to us.

Thank You for writing on this continued WASTE Ms Luzzaro! It's time to plug this LEAK in order to keep the 'City of Champions' afloat ......

TINOsLENS - what???? Council member McCann passed up an opportunity to speak to the press?

New jail but no college or university. Ass backward.

Charging more for detention services and/or using unused beds and facilities for Chula Vista's homeless are both good ideas . It would be nice to know what, if anything, the city's elected officials have to say about all of this.

“People like Celia are called mules or couriers. They are totally expendable to the drug organizations,”

ya know, everyone in jail has a story on why they think they shouldn't be there.

I wonder how many times she brought drugs in, how many people got hooked on those drugs, how many crimes were committed by people looking for money to buy those drugs, how many lives she helped ruin.

Under the theory of HLM (Hispanic Lives Matter) let them go. Use the jail for emergency shelter. With BLM and HLM instruct the police to catch and release all criminals of color and only detain someone if they are white. No problem.

Well,,, the lack of comment by CV Officials is yet another reason why the Mayoir and City Council NEED TO GO!!!!!!!!!!

WHAT HAPPENED TO CHULA VISTA OF OLD????

Sold down the river. Which is probably why it was so difficult to get anyone to listen regarding the rampant corruption in Sweetwater UHSD...in the minds of the "leaders", we were, apparently, already "history". Despite paying top dollar for homes and paying Mello-Roos in staggering amounts.

I have heard some people refer to the police station as the Taj Mahal. The rationale for expanding from a 6- bed jail to a 48-bed jail still puzzles many. As the article points out this agreement to pay the U.S. Marshalls less than cost has gone on since 2011.

"I dreamed I dwelt in marble halls..."

As TINOsLENs mentions, there are those who see other possibilities for the Taj:

Here is an interesting comment from the Reader's Facebook page

Henry Romero Obviously the city jail was never needed. But Chula Vista officials, like those in countless other cities, prefer to build new edifices (so-called "public erections"), rather than use available funds for social services for its citizens.

The CV PD (and jail) are adequate modern facilities. No need to stop them from being used for their intended purpose. These are OUR police facilities. Not buildings to be used for your hair brained schemes.

While we're on the subject, people like Tino created the need for a big, new jail when he started inviting more and more vagrants to CV.

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