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Fullerton, Westminster Added : Alternative-Sentence Program Is Expanded

Times Staff Writer

In an effort to reduce overcrowding at the Orange County Jail and steer offenders away from a life of crime, the Board of Supervisors Tuesday expanded an alternative-sentencing program to include the Superior and Municipal Courts in Fullerton and Westminster.

Under the program, some people accused of crimes stemming at least partly from problems with drugs and alcohol are sent to residential treatment centers rather than jail.

The 10-year-old program, launched in Santa Ana Superior Court by the county public defender’s office, was originally financed by the state and employed three caseworkers. When state support ended in 1979, the county paid for one investigator to handle persons accused of felonies eligible for the program in Santa Ana Superior Court. Last year, the supervisors added an investigator and a clerk and expanded the program to Santa Ana Municipal Court.

Ellen Gordon, a senior analyst in the county administrative office, said that from August, 1984, through last July, deputy public defenders referred 218 people to the Municipal Court program for consideration.

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Gordon added that 135 of the 218, or 62%, were ruled out because they were considered career criminals, had a poor attitude, or were rejected for other reasons.

The rest qualified for the program and either had their jail sentences reduced or managed to avoid jail altogether, Gordon said. As a result, the net reduction in jail time was about 30.5 man years, based on sentences that would have been imposed if the program didn’t exist, she said.

“It’s not just a case of reducing jail overcrowding today,” Gordon said. “Hopefully, (the program) has some long-term effects. Hopefully, these people are rehabilitated.”

In a report to the supervisors, Gordon cited a 1979 study showing that criminals allowed to take part in such a program--known as the Alternative Disposition Program--are less likely to violate the law than those processed normally through the courts.

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The supervisors agreed to make permanent the pilot program in Santa Ana Municipal Court and to place an investigator in the Fullerton and Westminster courts, at a cost of $56,240 per year.

The county has been looking for ways to end overcrowding at the Orange County Jail in Santa Ana ever since a Los Angeles federal judge found the supervisors and Sheriff Brad Gates in criminal contempt of court for not heeding a court order to reduce the number of inmates.


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