Fine of $5,000 Daily Sought for Inmates Without Beds in Jail
The lawyer who persuaded a federal judge to fine Orange County for failing to end overcrowding in the County Jail urged Monday that the penalty be immediately increased from $10 to $5,000 per day for every inmate who does not have a bed.
Attorney Richard Herman, in a strongly worded denunciation of the county, also asked U.S. District Judge William P. Gray to fine the county
$10,000 per day if the jail population is not reduced within 90 days to 1,191, which is the number the jail was built to hold.
Recent surveys of the jail have put the number of inmates as high as 1,931 and the number without beds at 435.
On March 18, Gray found Sheriff Brad Gates and the county supervisors in criminal contempt for not complying with his 1978 order to improve conditions at the jail. Gray imposed an immediate $50,000 fine and added an additional fine of $10 per day for each inmate who went without a bed for more than 24 hours, effective May 17.
“Using feigned naivete, the defendants have as their solution of choice, ordered triple-tier ‘concentration camp’ bunks so that they can house 1,800 or 2,000 inmates in their 1,191-inmate facility ‘with a bed,’ ” Herman said in court papers he filed requesting another hearing.
Herman, representing the American Civil Liberties Union in the case, said in the court document that Gray told the county that temporary beds could be used only as a temporary solution.
The lawyer said the use of triple-tiered bunks would institutionalize overcrowding in the jail and “is nothing but warehousing of bodies in a concentration camp manner, without the slightest regard for minimum standards of human decency . . . . “
Herman said crowding so many inmates together posed health problems and increased the chances of violence among inmates or between inmates and guards.
Gates was not available for comment on Herman’s charges, but the sheriff said at the time the Board of Supervisors ordered triple-bunking as a key means of relieving overcrowding that he, too, was concerned about increasing the possibility of clashes in the jail. But Gates said the triple-bunking was a necessary part of the effort to comply with Gray’s order.
Gray, meanwhile, returned to Los Angeles Monday from a five-week assignment to federal court in Illinois.
First Morning Back
“This is my first morning back at my desk since about April 23,” he said in a telephone interview. He said he had reports on the jail situation on his desk but had not yet read them.
“I hope to schedule a hearing next week, or at least talk to counsel,” Gray said. “I want to find out what they’ve been doing and just consider the status of the matter.”
Thomas F. Riley, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, was not available for comment on Herman’s memorandum to Gray, but he had earlier quarreled with Herman’s recommendation that Orange County follow San Diego County’s example.
San Diego heeded a court order limiting its inmate population by releasing virtually all jail inmates who had been arrested on misdemeanor charges after they signed citations saying they would appear in court on their cases, rather than requiring them to post bail. Herman repeated his praise for the San Diego action in court papers filed Monday.
Riley said Friday that “I don’t believe the judges of Orange County, the constituents of Orange County, the sheriff and all of us are quite ready for that effort.”
The supervisor said he wanted to be sure “that we can with all good conscience look the judge in the eye and say, ‘We’re doing all we can do down there.’ ”
“I want to be sure that he does not get the impression that we are not doing everything in our capability.”
The supervisors are scheduled to meet Wednesday to consider a request from Gates to add more than 100 people to the Sheriff’s Department and increase his budget more than $4 million to cover the costs of dispersing inmates from the central jail in Santa Ana to other facilities.
On May 27, 100 inmates were moved from the jail to the Theo Lacy minimum security branch jail in Orange, and 76 inmates were moved from Theo Lacy to the James A. Musick Honor Farm near El Toro.
Letter Sent Friday
Last Friday Gates sent a letter to Riley noting that the increase of inmates at Theo Lacy to 480 daily and more than 850 on weekends necessitated using reserve sheriff’s officers to work 75 shifts each week. The sheriff said the reservists had to be replaced by permanent staff as soon as possible.
In addition, Gates said it would cost nearly $2.5 million for staff, supplies and equipment needed to operate a temporary facility to be added at the Musick branch jail.
Other than moving the prisoners to Lacy, “we don’t believe there are any ‘quick fix’ solutions” to the problem of jail overcrowding, Gates said in a report to the supervisors last week. The supervisors asked for a week to discuss his requests for money and expressed concern at the cost.
County officials have been searching for a site for a new jail for years, but have not yet chosen one.
None of the proposals made since Gray’s March 18 order envision getting the jail population down to 1,191, its “capacity.” The use of double bunks and shared cells have enabled the building to provide about 1,500 beds. Addition of triple bunks will provide another 125 beds, Gates said.
Task Force Proposals
Triple-bunking, expanding the Musick facility and other suggestions to relieve jail overcrowding were proposed by a special county task force appointed by the supervisors after Gray’s order.
The $50,000 fine imposed on the county is being used to pay for a special master, Lawrence Grossman, who is monitoring conditions at the jail. Grossman, a former warden at the federal prison at Terminal Island, reported last week that from May 11 through May 24 the inmate population ranged from 1,788 to 1,931.
Grossman said the average number of inmates without beds was 228 per night, which would mean an average daily fine of $2,280 according to Gray’s order.