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Jail Crowding and the ACLU

In the June 6 edition of The Times, Supervisors Bruce Nestande, Harriett Wieder and Thomas Riley are quoted criticizing the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and attorney Richard Herman for work on the lawsuit filed to relieve overcrowding at the Orange County Jail.

Nestande said he did “not recall the ACLU ever supporting prison expansion in the state of California.” Nestande’s intimation is wrong; the ACLU does not oppose the construction of new prisons or jails, as long as the system’s capacity is not improperly enlarged and such construction serves other compelling civil liberties interests (such as the elimination of unconstitutional conditions or the construction of institutions less restrictive and/or more accessible to inmate support systems).

Wieder criticized Herman for entering the issue “at the 11th hour.” Wieder’s criticism is misplaced; it is the supervisors who delayed to the last possible moment before making any plans to relieve jail overcrowding. We sought and obtained the court order in the case in 1978. Orange County and its supervisors have taken no substantial steps in the intervening seven years to comply with the requirement that each inmate be provided with a bed.

Riley said he was upset when Herman told him “that the Board of Supervisors was not doing a very good job” on solving the jail problem. Herman is right. The supervisors have not been willing to obey the law by following the court order, but have been busy finding excuses to divert attention elsewhere.

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The jail remains a dangerous place, both for the guards and for the inmates, many of whom are not serving a sentence but are awaiting trial. We can all hope that the supervisors will direct their attention to relieving jail overcrowding, rather than to attacks on lawyers involved in the jail litigation.

RANDALL G. WICK

President,

Orange County

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