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For Seal Beach, privately run jail is a bust

June 29, 2007|Christian Berthelsen | Times Staff Writer

Citing costs and recurring problems, Seal Beach has closed its jail, which had been run for 13 years by a for-profit company.

Mayor John Larson said Thursday that the city had taken on more responsibility and costs under the arrangement with Houston-based Correctional Systems Inc. than anticipated.

"We were having to oversee too much," Larson said. "It just wasn't working properly."

A spokeswoman for Correctional Systems could not be reached for comment. The June 15 closure was first reported by the Orange County Register.

Larson said the city was considering options, including operating the jail itself or asking the Orange County Sheriff's Department to take over. Currently, Seal Beach police are booking detainees at the Huntington Beach City Jail and the county jails in Santa Ana.

The Seal Beach jail experienced some high-profile problems under Correctional Systems' management. An employee, Alonso Machain, was charged with murder for allegedly conspiring with an inmate, Skylar Deleon, to kill a Newport Beach couple and steal their yacht in 2004. He has testified for the prosecution in that case against other defendants; his case is pending.

The jail was also repeatedly cited by the state Corrections Standards Authority for lax policies, practices and recordkeeping, including not having adequate space for inmates, inconsistencies between inmate discipline policy and practice, and failing to have female guards on duty at all times to handle female prisoners.

Jeffrey Kirkpatrick, the chief of police in Seal Beach, said the city began losing money on the Correctional Systems contract at least two years ago because the company was not enrolling enough inmates from other facilities to generate revenue.

Though the city gave warnings on business shortcomings, employee conduct and incidents in the jail, fixes were temporary, he said. "The bottom line was, it was a business decision," Kirkpatrick said.

christian.berthelsen@latimes.com

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