Gates Bars State, U.S. Prisoners to Relieve Jam at Jail

Times Staff Writer

Sheriff Brad Gates on Tuesday told federal and state prison officials that he will no longer accept their inmates at the Orange County Jail as one step in response to a court order that he reduce jail overcrowding.

Gates also said that his staff is compiling a list of inmates who would present the least risk to the public if he has to ask the Orange County Superior Court to release prisoners to reduce the jail population. Gates said he would submit such a list to the court "only as a last resort."

Gates' decision will mean even more overcrowding at the state prison in Chino and "tremendous logistical problems" in moving inmates to Orange County for court appearances, a state corrections official said.

U.S. Dist. Judge William P. Gray in Los Angeles on Monday found Gates and the five county supervisors in criminal contempt for not complying with his 1978 order that all inmates at the men's jail be provided a bunk or bed.

The jail's official capacity is 1,191, and it has bunks for 1,530. But its daily population is usually 2,000 and more. That means hundreds of inmates end up sleeping on mats on the floor in dayrooms and in the shower and toilet rooms, and on "the beach," the eight-foot-wide walkway in front of the cells.

Gray also fined the county $50,000, plus $10 per day for each inmate who has to sleep on the floor for more than one night. Gray stayed the $10-per-day order for 60 days to give Gates time to try to reduce population of the men's jail. Gray also said he will appoint a special master to monitor jail operations.

In an interview, Gates said it is "a sad day when the sheriff and the Board of Supervisors are doing everything they can to solve problems and a judge can still find them in criminal contempt. A sheriff could end up a prisoner in his own jail; that's a sad situation."

Gray, who called conditions at the jail "intolerable," acknowledged that Gates and the supervisors had made long-range plans to increase jail bed space in the county by 1987. But Gray told county attorneys that something needs to be done immediately, even if that meant establishing temporary housing of inmates somewhere outside the jail.

Gates said that he and his staff are still analyzing Gray's actions, and that he is not ready to say whether he will recommend to the supervisors any temporary housing plans.

The priority right now, Gates said, is coming up with suitable candidates for the special master job.

Opposes ACLU Member

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has already recommended to Gray that he appoint Paul Sutton, a professor of criminal justice administration at San Diego State University. Gates opposes Sutton, who is an ACLU board member in San Diego County.

Gates' first choice is Edgar Smith, assistant executive officer for the state Board of Corrections.

"We think that the Board of Corrections is attuned to our problems here. Any recommendations we would make for major changes would have to go to the state board for approval anyway," Gates said. But he added that he wants to submit other names to give Gray choices suitable to the county.

Gates said that someone from the Board of Corrections might be more sensitive to community opposition if a site is selected for temporary housing of jail inmates.

Richard Herman, the ACLU attorney who brought the class-action case, said he has only one objection to Smith, who once testified for Herman against Gates in a jail food case. Smith can only devote one day a week to the special master's job. Herman says the special master should be someone who can commit more time than that and lives within commuting distance of Orange County. Smith lives in Sacramento.

Other Candidates

Other candidates Gates will submit will include: Tom Lonegran and Alan Calmanorf, both consultants with the National Institute of Corrections, a private group; Gordon Yach, who is a special master in another jail-overcrowding case, and Norman Cox, a private consultant in jail planning and management.

Gray is expected to name the special master sometime after Thursday, the deadline he gave Gates to submit candidates for the job.

Gates vowed he would give full cooperation to whoever is appointed special master.

"We're all on the same side," he said. "We all agree the jail is overcrowded and that something should be done."

Supervisors Chairman Thomas F. Riley said he will ask the board today to discuss Gray's order and see what can be done to help Gates.

Gates' decision not to accept any more federal or state prisoners will reduce the daily jail population by up to 100. That number varies from day to day. Federal and state authorities use the jail for inmates who are parole violators and who need to be in Orange County courts before being transferred to prison, or for inmates who are brought back to the county to testify in other cases.

Not Happy With Action

Gates said he is not happy about cutting off cooperation with state and federal authorities because he has had good relations with them. State officials are not happy about it either but say they understand.

Bob Gore, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections, said Gates' decision will mean "more inmates at the reception center at Chino, which already has a serious overcrowding problem. It will also mean a tremendous logistical problem transporting these people back to Orange County so they can go to court."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World