Sheriff John Duffy blasted the county Tuesday for failing to speed up construction of buildings that could help relieve overcrowding in the county's jails.
Duffy said the county staff is acting as if conditions are "business as usual" despite the Board of Supervisors' action seven months ago declaring the overcrowding a state of emergency.
The overcrowding, which again reached record levels Tuesday, is threatening to attract further court orders, contempt of court citations against the sheriff and the supervisors, or fines, Duffy said in his quarterly report to the board.
On Tuesday morning, there were 3,391 inmates in the county's six jails, more than twice the number for which those facilities were designed, Duffy said. That inmate population included 1,130 in the County Jail downtown, which is under a Superior Court order not to exceed 750 inmates.
On top of the current crisis, Duffy pointed out that within the next year he will need someplace to put the more than 400 inmates now at the County Jail in Vista while an expansion of that jail is built. The county filed a plan in court Tuesday seeking permission to move the Vista prisoners to the overcrowded Central Jail during that construction, according to Alex Landon, the attorney who represented inmates in the court case that led to the cap on the population at the central jail.
Duffy's main complaint with the county's handling of the new construction is the cumbersome set of regulations through which two stop-gap jail projects must pass before they can be built.
The projects would add 112 beds to the Descanso jail camp in East County and 600 beds at the new East Mesa jail and honor camp in the South Bay.
The Descanso expansion, which involves the construction of two dormitory buildings, is scheduled to be completed in April. The East Mesa jail, to be built with prefabricated materials, won't open until at least 1989.
"I don't understand why it should take seven months to build a couple of new buildings we already have the plans for," Duffy said of the Descanso project. "We already own the land. Why can't we cut through all the bid process and all the competitive things we have to do and move much more rapidly than that?"
If he were put in charge of the projects, Duffy said, he could finish the Descanso work in 60 days and complete construction of the East Mesa jail within six months.
Duffy said the county should eliminate competitive bidding, in-house design and site inspections, and minority contracting guidelines. He said he would hand the East Mesa project over to a private contractor and allow that business to plan, design and build the jail.
"They've done it in other parts of the country, there's no reason why we can't do it here," he said in an interview after the board meeting. "We're just moving too slowly. You can't blame one particular person. It's just the system that has got to get out of low gear and get into high gear.
"I'm concerned that some of the things we're doing appear to be kind of business as usual. We're not really doing as much as we possibly could."
Chief Administrative Officer Norman Hickey said he intends to meet with Duffy and other top county officials this week or next in an effort to meet the sheriff's concerns.
"We'll try to expedite it," Hickey said.
Richard Robinson, director of special projects for Hickey, said there is little more the county can do to speed construction of the jail buildings.
"We're already doing everything as fast as we can," Robinson said. "Apparently the sheriff would like us to wave a magic wand and have it done."