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County State Senators Author Bill to Keep Community SAFE


Last updated 1/28/2022 at 12:01pm

Sen. Brian Jones, R-Santee, along with Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, have sponsored the SAFE Act – SAFE is the acronym for Sexually Violent Predator Accountability, Fairness and Enforcement. This act was developed based on the poor performance of the California Department of State Hospitals (DSH) to manage the Conditional Release Program (CONREP) in placing Sexually Violent Predators (SVPs) in housing outside state hospitals and prisons. The return rate of SVPs to state hospitals and prison after release in CONREP is 70%. Beyond this failing record by the State, CONREP is extraordinarily expensive to CA state tax payers. State records show that annual costs for SVPs placed in rental housing can be $650,000 and higher.

Following high-profile incidents of DSH and their contractor, Liberty Healthcare, attempting to place SVPs in East and North County, Senator Jones and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors agreed it is time to take action.

“The recent cases of Douglas Badger and Merle Wakefield fit the recent pattern of deceit and deception by the Department of State Hospitals,” Jones said. “Families throughout Mt. Helix, Ranchita, Borrego Springs and Rancho Bernardo were jolted by the state’s attempt to put an SVP in their neighborhoods.

“Thankfully in these cases, judges have intervened and prevented the forced and dangerous placements of SVPs into inappropriate neighborhoods,” he said. Additionally, strong community actions led to withdrawal of properties as rental housing for SVPs to Liberty Healthcare.

For background, a disproportionate number of SVPs currently in CONREP are in San Diego County. The latest count was 9 of 18 in the state of California are in our county. Many of these dangerous felons were not San Diego County residents and their crimes were committed elsewhere.

If passed, Senate Bill 841 would:

• Require public safety to be the highest criteria of any potential SVP placement outside a state hospital or prison

• Limit the placement of SVPs within a county to no more 40% in any district

• Require the DSH Director to publish an annual public report regarding how many SVPs are in each county and by district

•Require the DSH to manage the CONREP process by approving any placement locations before the vendor (such as Liberty Healthcare) can lease housing for SVPs

•Require DSH, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Department, and the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection any inventory of facilities that could suitably house SVPs in a report to the governor and state Legislature

“For too long the state has been sneaking around trying to release or parole dangerous sexually violent predators and rapists in residential neighborhoods,” Jones said. “State Hospital officials have often tried to duck their responsibility by giving their vendors, such as Liberty HealthCare, too much freedom in targeting regions such as East and North County.”

“Unfortunately, this problem is not unique to San Diego,” he said. “The SAFE Act will require transparency in the SVP placement process, force state officials to own up to their decisions, and make public safety the highest priority.”

If interested, contact the offices of Governor Newsom, Senators Jones and Hueso, and your County Supervisors to let them know you support passage of the SAFE Act.

For those who may not remember, in the heat of July 2021 our perception of safety changed in the instant the Sheriff’s office notified the Borrego Springs community that the San Diego Superior Court would review the proposed placement of SVP Wakefield to live among us. This was a man convicted of multiple acts of violent sexual crimes including rape with weapons and other crimes. The proposed placement threatened our Borrego way of life. We sprang into action with only a two-week window to respond to the court. A town hall was set up at the De Anza Country Club and neighbors from every Borrego Springs community, the Chamber and businesses attended to join the fight. People of all ages wrote letters to the court including school children and petitions were signed. Mistakes were found in the court handling of Wakefield’s selection for release and, ultimately, a small group of concerned citizens bought the proposed rental house to “take it out of play”.

Borrego Springs met the challenge – and now we remain vigilant.

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