The San Diego Central Jail (SDCJ)

∗A resource guide providing inmate, bail and visiting information for the San Diego Central Jail

The San Diego Central Jail

The San Diego Central Jail ("SDCJ")...operated by the San Diego Sheriff's Department...serves as the primary booking station for male arrestees in San Diego County.  Women are taken to the Las Colinas Detention Facility or to the Vista Detention Facility.

The SDCJ

  1. books and then transfers inmates to other San Diego correctional facilities (there are a variety of circumstances that determine where an inmate will be housed, including security needs, overcrowding, location of arrest, etc.),
  2. temporarily houses arrestees until they

    • post bail,
    • are released on their own recognizance (known as an O.R. release),
    • appear for their arraignment, or
    • await their trial, and
  3. houses convicted defendants who have been sentenced to incarceration in a county jail.

The largest population at the San Diego Central Jail consists of the "special handling inmates".  This includes inmates who

  • are representing themselves (a process known as "pro per" representation),
  • are facing high-publicity trials,
  • have serious medical challenges, or
  • are under psychiatric care.

In fact, the San Diego Jail provides a wide variety of medical and psychiatric services.  The facility offers on-site dialysis, infectious disease control and dental care.  The Jail's psychiatric unit is the largest acute psychiatric treatment facility in the county.

Opened in May 1998, the San Diego Central Jail is a state-of-the-art facility that makes extensive use of touch-screen controls and video surveillance.  It has a total of 17 levels, 944 beds and an average daily population of nearly 900 inmates.

In this article, our San Diego County criminal defense attorneys1 will explain the following:

1. Procedures on How to Post Bail for an Inmate at the San Diego Central Jail

1.1. Cash bail

1.2. Cashier's checks

1.3. Money orders

1.4. Bail bonds

2. How to Get Information on an Inmate Housed at the San Diego Central Jail
3. How to Contact an Inmate at the
San Diego Central Jail
4. Visiting Hours and Policies

4.1. Visiting hours

4.2. Visitor rules and restrictions

5. Rules and Regulations Regarding Mail Correspondence with Inmates at the SDCJ
6. E-mailing Inmates at the San Diego Jail
7. How to Put Money "On the Books" for
an Inmate
8. Inmate Services
9. The San Diego Central Jail's Procedures for
"Return of Property"

If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

You may also find helpful information in our related articles on California's Arraignment Process; O.R. Release; How to Post Bail; Bail Hearings; The San Diego County Bail Schedule; Pretrial Hearings; Jury Trials; and Sentencing Hearings.

1. Procedures on How to Post Bail for an Inmate at the San Diego Central Jail

"Bail" refers to the amount of money that a defendant must post in order to be released from jail.  It is intended to assure the court that the defendant will appear in court as expected.  If the defendant attends all court appearances, the bail will be returned at the end of the case.  If the defendant does not attend all of his court appearances, he forfeits that money to the court.

Once an inmate has been booked into the San Diego Central Jail, anyone can pay (or "post") bail on his behalf.  You can do this 24 hours a day / 7 days a week at this facility or at any other San Diego Sheriff's Detention Facility, in accordance with that individual facility's business hours.

The San Diego Central Jail is located at

1173 Front Street
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 615-2700

Bail for inmates at the San Diego Central Jail is set according to the San Diego County bail schedule based on the crime(s) for which they were arrested.

The SDCJ accepts four types of bail payments (many of which are discussed in detail in our article on How to Post Bail in California): cash bail, cashier's checks, money orders and bail bonds.

1.1. Cash bail

If you post cash bail, it must be for the full bail amount.  You can do this with actual cash or with a personal check for an amount up to $10,000 with the Supervisor's approval.

Once you post cash bail, the inmate is released pending his arraignment.  If the inmate attends his court appearances, the bail will be returned following the conclusion of the criminal case (minus a small administrative fee).  If the inmate does not attend those appearances, he forfeits your money to the court.

1.2. Cashier's check

Similar to cash bail, if you opt to use a cashier's check, you must post the entire bail amount.  The San Diego Central Jail only accepts bank-drawn cashier's checks.  Checks should be payable to the San Diego County Treasurer.  They should also include the inmate's full name and booking number.

Because the funds must be verified before the Jail will release an inmate, the inmate's release may take a while, depending on the time of day and whether the arrest takes place on a weekend.

1.3. Money orders

Again, money orders must be payable to the San Diego County Treasurer and must be for the full bail amount.  Money orders may be

1.4. Bail bonds

Since most people don't have the funds to post cash bail or a cashier's check, posting a bail bond is the most common way to bail someone out of jail.  This is because...assuming the defendant makes all of his court appearances...you are only required to pay a maximum 10% of the total bail amount.

You obtain a bail bond from a bail bondsman (aka a bail agent).  If the defendant makes all of his court appearances, you pay nothing on top of the 10%, but you do not get that 10% back...it is the bondsman's nonrefundable fee.  If the inmate doesn't make those appearances, you will be liable for repaying the entire bail amount to the agent.

When you use a bail bond, the application process only takes about half an hour.  The inmate is usually released shortly after that.

You can search for bail bondsmen via the Internet or in the phone book.  Make sure you verify the bondsman's license and retain copies of any documents for your records.

∗NOTE:  Once you post bail, you should immediately consult with a skilled San Diego criminal defense lawyer who can schedule a bail hearing to argue that the bail should be reduced or eliminated.  One of our experienced local attorneys can also help devise the most effective legal defense to help your loved one fight his case.

2. How to Get Information on Inmates Housed at the San Diego Central Jail

You can obtain information on inmates at the SDCJ 24 hours a day / 7 days a week by

  1. calling the Jail directly at (619) 615-2700, or
  2. visiting the San Diego Sheriff's "Who's in Jail" inmate information website.

If you would like case information on an inmate, such as an upcoming date for his/her

you may visit the San Diego County case information website.

3. How to Contact an Inmate at the
San Diego Central Jail

When an inmate is booked into the SDCJ, he may make three free outgoing phone calls:  one to his attorney, one to a bail agent and one to a friend/family member.  While inmates may continue to make free local calls, long distance calls must be collect or placed with a calling card.  Inmates are not allowed to receive incoming calls.

Public Communications Services, Inc. ("PCS") provides inmate telephone services so that inmates can continue to communicate with their loved ones.  If you would like to help fund an inmate's telephone account, you have two options:

    1. you can establish a prepaid calling account by

a) calling PCS at (888) 288-9879,

b) e-mailing PCS at customerservice@pcsdailydial.com, or

c) visiting the PCS website,

or

  1. send the inmate money in accordance with the policies set forth under Section 7. How to Put Money "On the Books" so that he can purchase a pre-paid calling card at the Jail's commissary in either a $10 or $20 denomination.

If you have a loved one in the San Diego Central Jail, contact your local telephone carrier to make sure that collect and calling card calls are not blocked on your telephone plan.

The good news is that contact with inmates at the Jail isn't limited to phone calls.  You can also visit an inmate in person or correspond via mail or e-mail.  These options are discussed in the next three sections.

4. Visiting Hours and Policies

Most inmates at the San Diego Central Jail are allowed to have up to three (3) visitors (including children) twice a week.

4.1. Visiting hours

Visits should be scheduled at least one day ahead of time.  You can schedule a visit by calling the reservation line Tuesday through Saturday from 7:30am to 11:30am at

  • (619) 531-3200,
  • (858) 694-3200, or
  • (760) 940-4473.

When you make a reservation, make sure you know all visitors'

  • full names,
  • dates of birth,
  • home addresses, and
  • telephone numbers.

Walk-in visits will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis as long as the visitors check in one hour before.  All visitors must check-in together.  If a visitor is late, it may cancel the visit.

Inmates are allowed two 30-minute visits per week.  Visits are typically non-contact and take place through a visit window using telephone handsets.  Visits with inmates who are receiving medical treatment take place via television sets (known as "tele-visiting").

In-person visiting hours take place Wednesday through Sunday.  Tele-visiting takes place Friday through Sunday at 9:00am and at 6:45pm.

Attorneys are not bound by these hours or visitor limits and have access to inmates 24 hours a day / 7 days a week.

4.2. Visitor rules and restrictions

All visitors 16 years and older must present one of the following unexpired types of identification in order to be admitted into the facility:

  • a driver's license,
  • a federal, state or local government issued identification card,
  • a military identification card,
  • a passport,
  • a U.S. Immigration identification card (including a visa),
  • border crossing card issued by the U.S. Department of Justice,
  • current high school identification card, or
  • a Matricula Consular ID card issued after April 22, 2002 by the Consul General of Mexico.

Even with a valid I.D., certain individuals are prohibited from visiting inmates without prior approval from the Watch Commander.  These include individuals who are on probation or who have previously been convicted of a felony and served time in a state prison.

And visitors beware - there is no expectation of privacy in a jail facility, which means that your visit may be monitored or recorded.

5. Rules and Regulations Regarding Mail Correspondence with Inmates at the SDCJ

Inmates at the San Diego Central Jail are allowed to send and receive an unlimited amount of mail.  Note that all incoming and outgoing mail will be searched for contraband, and the writing will be scanned for security reasons.

If you wish to send mail to an inmate at this facility, address it to

[Inmate's first and last name and booking number]
San Diego Central Jail
P.O. Box 122952
San Diego, CA 92112-2952

Be sure to include your name and return address.  If you do not, your mail may not be delivered.

Letters and photos are acceptable types of mail, provided that there are no nude photos (they will not be delivered).  Other than letters or photos, nothing else should be included in an envelope.  If you wish to send money so that an inmate can make purchases at the Jail's commissary, be sure to follow the procedures set forth below in Section 7. How to Put "Money on the Books" for an Inmate.

The Jail provides books, magazines and daily newspapers to the inmates.  These types of reading materials may also be sent by friends/family members as long as they are mailed directly from the publisher or through a reputable online service such as Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com. Any of these items that are mailed from a book store or an individual will be rejected.  Hardcover books will also be refused.

6. E-mailing Inmates at the San Diego Jail

You may also choose to correspond with inmates at the San Diego Central Jail via e-mail.  If you do so, this should be in lieu of a traditional letter and should be limited to one message per day.

Some restrictions to note about e-mails:

  • There is no expectation of privacy for e-mail correspondence.  Every message will be reviewed by the Jail staff.  Acceptable e-mails will be printed and distributed for inmates to read - the inmates do not actually read or respond to messages electronically (inmate responses will be sent via U.S. mail).  When prompted to enter your address, use the physical address where you would like the inmate's response to be delivered.
  • Messages are restricted to a single page and may not include pictures or other attachments.
  • Unsolicited advertisements will not be delivered.

For detailed instructions on how to e-mail an inmate, you can visit the San Diego Sheriff's "E-mail an Inmate" webpage.

7. How to Put Money "On the Books" for an Inmate

When you put money "on the books" for an inmate at the San Diego Central Jail, it means that you create or contribute to an "in-house" bank account that allows the inmate to make purchases at the Jail's commissary, such as "extra" food, non-essential toiletry items, stationary, and pre-paid phone cards.

If you would like to mail money to an SDCJ inmate, do not send cash.  You may send the following types of checks/money orders made payable to the inmate (and in an amount less than $100):

  • cashier's checks from a U.S. bank,
  • money orders issued by the U.S. Postal Service, Western Union or any bank,
  • government instruments such as payroll or retirement checks, and
  • checks issued by the State Prison System or a San Diego County Probation Department Honor Camp.

Funds become available for inmate use five working days after a check is received and cleared.

Be sure to follow the rules/regulations that were described above in Section 5. Rules and Regulations Regarding Mail Correspondence.

If you wish to put money "on the books" in person, you may do so 24 hours a day / 7 days at this facility or during the business hours of any other San Diego Sheriff's detention facility.  Cash is accepted in person, as are any of the types of payment just noted above.

You may also place money "on the books" by visiting the San Diego Sheriff's Commissary website.

∗Note - deposits that cause an inmate's account to exceed $500 will be placed with the inmate's property.  Any unused money will be returned to the inmate upon his release.

8. Inmate Services

The San Diego Central Jail offers a number of services to its inmates.  Some of these include:

  • a commissary where inmates can purchase a variety of items such as food, reading materials, hygiene products, games, etc.,
  • outdoor recreation,
  • televisions, board games and playing cards,
  • educational courses and high school equivalency (G.E.D.) certificates,
  • religious counseling and services conducted by chaplains from a variety of religious denominations,
  • counseling classes in the areas of substance abuse, parenting, anger management and domestic violence, and
  • on and off-site medical services for mental and physical disabilities.
9. The San Diego Central Jail's Procedures for "Return of Property"

When an inmate is booked into the SDCJ, his belongings are collected and stored.  This property is usually returned to the inmate upon his release.  Alternatively, an inmate can designate another person to claim that property by filling out a property release form.

If an inmate fills out this form designating you as the person to whom property should be released, you may collect the property 24 hours a day / 7 days a week at the facility.  This does not need to be arranged ahead of time and may take place during a regular visit.

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1Our San Diego County criminal defense attorneys have a local law office located at 3111 Camino del Rio Norte, Suite 400,San Diego, CA 92116.  Our telephone number is (619) 275-6100.  In addition, our Los Angeles County defense attorneys have local law offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Whittier.

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