Judge Who Set Fine for Crowded County Jail to Visit Facility

Times Staff Writers

The Los Angeles federal judge who found county officials in criminal contempt three months ago because of overcrowded conditions at the Orange County Jail will visit the jail Wednesday to see what improvements have been made.

U.S. District Judge William P. Gray has also set a hearing June 24 in Los Angeles on the overcrowding issue, "so we can see where we go from here," he told attorneys involved.

Deputy County Counsel Edward Duran said Monday he thinks there is a good chance that by the time of the hearing the county can fully comply with Gray's order that no inmates at the men's jail in downtown Santa Ana be forced to sleep on the floor because of overcrowding.

Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates two weeks ago transferred 100 inmates from the main jail to the Theo Lacy branch jail in Orange. He has reduced the jail population by another 100 by refusing to house federal and state prisoners for more than short periods.

Inflatable Tents

Gates also has made plans to add inflatable tents to house about 150 extra inmates at the James A. Musick Honor Farm near El Toro. In the main jail, triple bunks will replace double bunks in most cells.

Today, the supervisors are expected to approve a $1.6-million proposal by Gates to build temporary trailer-like buildings at the Musick facility to house about 450 inmates. That plan was approved by the county's jail task force on Monday.

"We're working as hard as we can and moving as fast as we can," Gates said Monday. "I think what we've done up to this point shows we've tried to address the problem."

Gates said he was under orders from county attorneys not to discuss Gray's visit to the men's jail on Wednesday.

Visit Arranged

The scheduled court hearing and Gray's visit to the men's jail were arranged at an in-chambers conference on Monday between Gray, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Richard Herman, and Deputy County Counsel Duran.

It will be Judge Gray's first visit to the Orange County Jail since 1978, when he toured the facility prior to his broad order requiring Gates to make numerous changes at the jail.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which sued Gates in that case, returned to Gray's court on March 18 to complain that county officials had failed to live up to Gray's seven-year-old order that all inmates be given a bunk.

Gray at that March 18 hearing found the Board of Supervisors in criminal contempt, fined them $50,000, and gave them 60 days to make better sleeping arrangements for inmates or face an additional fine of $10 per day for each inmate who had to sleep on the floor more than one night.

At the time of Gray's March 18 order, more than 2,000 inmates were at the men's jail, which has a state Board of Corrections-rated capacity of 1,191. It had 1,530 bunks then. That meant nearly 500 inmates were sleeping on the floor.

Those figures have gone down substantially. The latest report before Gray on Monday, covering June 4, 5 and 6, showed an average daily count of 1,735, with an average of 165 inmates still sleeping on the floor.

Duran and Gates said the tents for the Musick facility should be ready in about two weeks, and that the triple bunks could be in place in another week.

"The triple bunks will allow a lot more floor space," Duran said, explaining that 30 triple bunks will replace the 42 double bunks now in each of the jail's eight large dormitory cells.

Duran said Gray expressed interest at the in-chambers session Monday in seeing the tents and the triple bunks but was told they would not be ready in time for his Wednesday visit.

Small Tour Group

The news media will not be allowed to join Wednesday's tour of the jail, Herman and Duran both reported. They said the judge asked that the group be kept small, just the attorneys and someone from the jail, plus the judge and his law clerk.

The judge plans to rely on daily count figures provided for him by Gates. The special master Gray had appointed to monitor the jail count, Lawrence Grossman, is recuperating from open heart surgery and is not expected back on the job for several weeks.

Gray asked the FBI Monday to monitor the daily count, but FBI officials responded such an assignment was beyond their jurisdiction. Gray is expected to appoint a replacement, at least temporarily, for Grossman within the next few days.

The $1.6 million for the temporary trailer-like units at the Musick facility will come out of $3 million the supervisors appropriated to ease overcrowding at the jail. Duran described the new units as "interim long-term temporary."

Herman of the ACLU said the temporary measures are better than no steps at all but that he won't be happy until the main jail's population is down to its rated capacity of 1,191.

Herman is expected to ask Gray on June 24 to put a limit of 1,191 inmates who can be housed at the main jail.

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