Jail Measures OKd by Supervisors After Debate With Lawyer
The Board of Supervisors jousted with an American Civil Liberties Union attorney Wednesday over actions to relieve overcrowding at the Orange County Jail, then doled out more men and money to improve conditions at the facility.
Supervisors also voted to add some triple-tiered beds, and they ordered a report within 45 days from the county administrative officer on the feasibility and cost of replacing some sheriff’s deputies at the jail with civilian correctional officers.
Richard Herman, the ACLU attorney whose lawsuit on behalf of inmates led a federal judge to find the supervisors and Sheriff Brad Gates in criminal contempt in March, criticized the board for not doing enough to comply with the judge’s order to reduce the population of the County Jail in Santa Ana.
But the supervisors said one program that Herman recommended, work release, already was in effect.
‘Kind of Shocking’
“I really find it kind of shocking that an attorney that we’ve been involved with since 1978 would not be aware of the fact that we do all of those programs and more,” Gates told the board. The sheriff, like Herman, had been sitting in the audience at the public hearing.
“It amazes me also that the ACLU would be against us taking inmates off the floor and putting them in a bed,” Gates said. Herman had opposed the idea of installing triple-tiered bunks in the jail on the grounds it would make overcrowding permanent.
But the supervisors Wednesday authorized some triple bunking that would add 125 beds.
Supervisor Roger Stanton said Herman opposed triple-bunking “because it is not the ACLU way or Mr. Herman’s way” to relieve overcrowding. Supervisor Bruce Nestande said sailors on U.S. Navy ships sleep in worse conditions than bunks stacked three high and added that he did “not recall the ACLU ever supporting prison expansion in the state of California.”
Supervisor Harriett Wieder criticized Herman for entering the issue “at the 11th hour.” And board Chairman Thomas F. Riley said he was upset last week when Herman told him “that the Board of Supervisors was not doing a very good job” on solving the jail problem.
Not Bothered by Criticism
Outside the meeting room, Herman said he wasn’t surprised or bothered by the criticism or by the refusal to let him answer the attacks. He said the steps he suggested to relieve jail overcrowding had been taken only partially or not at all, despite Gates’ assertions.
U.S. District Judge William P. Gray fined the county $50,000 on March 18 for not complying with his 1978 order to improve conditions at the jail and added a fine of $10 a day, effective May 17, for each inmate forced to sleep on the floor more than one night.
The jail was built to hold 1,191 inmates, but now has beds for about 1,500. As many as 435 inmates have been without beds in the jail in recent days.
The $50,000 fine is being used to pay for a special master, Lawrence Grossman, to monitor conditions at the jail and report to Gray.
Grossman, a former warden at the federal prison on Terminal Island, suffered a heart attack Tuesday, and his wife, Janis, said he was in satisfactory condition at a Brea hospital Wednesday.
The supervisors also voted to spend $919,699 for 57 new slots in the Sheriff’s Department, most of them for deputies to handle increased work at branch jails that have taken inmates from the central jail.
But in an effort to see if jail costs could be reduced, the supervisors adopted Wieder’s call for a study on replacing some deputies at the jail with civilians.
Earlier Study Cited
A chief administrative officer’s report to the board Wednesday said a combination of deputies and civilians is used in other counties in the state and that, generally, four deputies can be replaced with five corrections officers for the same cost.