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Judge Tours Orange County Jail for First-Hand Progress Report

From Times Wire Services

A federal judge toured the crowded Orange County Jail on Wednesday to decide for himself what progress has been made by local officials he had earlier fined and held in contempt for not providing beds to all inmates.

U.S. District Judge William Gray visited the main men’s jail in Santa Ana with lawyers for Orange County and the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed suit a decade ago contesting conditions at the facility.

Some things he saw were “quite pleasing,” Gray said, “while others were quite the contrary.”

Gray refused to discuss his findings with reporters outside the jail, but he promised a decision when the suit returns to his court on June 24.

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“I will fish or cut bait at that time,” he said.

Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates and the Board of Supervisors hope that Gray will be impressed enough with their progress to drop the per-day, per-prisoner fines he levied in March.

Modular Units, Tents

The county plans to house about 470 minimum-security prisoners in $1.6-million worth of trailer-like modular units just approved for purchase. It also plans to spend $54,000 to erect tent-like structures capable of holding up to 50 minimum-security prisoners each.

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The tents and modular units will be placed at the James Musick facility, a branch jail near El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

Supervisors believe the short-term solutions will appease Gray, who fined them $50,000 for failure to comply with his 1978 court order to provide each inmate with a bed.

Gray also imposed continuing fines that range from $2,300 to $6,000 a day, depending on the number of prisoners without beds for a 24-hour period.

ACLU lawyer Richard Herman praised the decision to move minimum-security prisoners into new quarters, which he called the “ACLU Summer Camp for Inmates.”

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