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Inescapable Concerns : Porous Lancaster State Prison Still Doesn't Have a Warden to Call Its Own

August 14, 1994

Tired of California's high unemployment rate (it's up to 9%) and Los Angeles County's even more anemic showing, at 10%? Perhaps you could consider a career in corrections. Specifically, we're talking about the job of prison warden.

Apparently, there's something of a shortage of these folks. That's the impression we get from the ongoing game of musical chairs at the most porous maximum-security prison in the state in recent memory: California State Prison-Los Angeles County, in Lancaster. It's the only one to have had escapes by dangerous inmates this year and last year.

First, John Ratelle ascended to the warden's chair in February, replacing the fellow in charge during both of those escapes, Otis Thurman. Security was tightened during the Ratelle regime and no escapes were recorded, but we weren't exactly pleased to hear that Ratelle was still serving as warden of a state prison in San Diego at the time, and traveling back there on weekends.

Ratelle is now out. He has been replaced, also on an interim basis, by Donald R. Hill. But it turns out that Hill has a divided attention span as well and is still serving as warden of the California Correctional Institution at Tehachapi. Sure, an assistant is running day-to-day operations at Tehachapi, but Hill is the top dog there and would be called during any disturbance.

What gives? Isn't there some kind of minor league for prison wardens? Aren't there credible assistant or deputy wardens out there, and why is it taking so long to find one?

It helps that there have been no escapes from Lancaster since January. The surrounding community, however, needs the additional reassurance of knowing that the place is being run on a permanent, full-time basis by a warden whose attentions won't be diverted to another prison in some other part of the state. Lancaster needs its own warden, and soon.

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