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Drunk Tank Shut Down to Cut Crowding

Times Staff Writer

To ease overcrowding at the Orange County Jail, Sheriff Brad Gates said Tuesday that he is no longer accepting drunk persons off the street at the men’s facility, thus shutting down the county’s drunk tank for the first time in 18 years.

Gates said in an interview that he notified local police departments last week of the move, which took effect over the weekend. The sheriff added that the jail will continue to take drunk drivers, but only for four hours and not overnight.

“I realize there is no other place for the cities to take these people, but I don’t have any choice,” Gates said.

County officials said the drunk tank at the jail houses up to 50 men on any given night, with the largest numbers coming on the weekends.

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Judge Modifies Order

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge William P. Gray on Tuesday agreed to modify his order to reduce the Orange County men’s jail population to 1,400 inmates by May 1. The easing of Gray’s order came after county officials said that they could not meet the deadline without risking community safety.

Judge Gray refused Gates’ request that the population maximum remain at the current 1,500, but he agreed to allow 1,450 for weekends and 1,500 for three-day weekends, such as Memorial Day.

“We’re in an extremely difficult situation,” Gates said Tuesday. “And I don’t see it getting any better.”

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Gray agreed to the change after receiving a letter from Gates, who said his job was not only to protect the inmates with a safe jail, but to protect the community as well.

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“I may not be able to do both without some relief which allows me to go above 1,400 in the men’s jail periodically,” Gates said in his letter.

The modification Gray approved was recommended by Lawrence G. Grossman, the special master appointed by the judge to monitor the jail.

There was no strong opposition to Grossman’s recommendation from the American Civil Liberties Union, which has criticized Gates’ policy on the jail issue.

But ACLU attorney Richard P. Herman told the judge that the inmates have the constitutional right not to be housed in an overcrowded jail, and that “the Constitution doesn’t take a rest on the weekends.”

No More Delay

Gray replied: “Even the Constitution has to be flexible enough to be practical.”

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Gray warned county officials, however, that he would not tolerate any more delays in the 1,400 ceiling after the summer.

Despite ongoing county plans to add new jail facilities to comply with Gray’s orders, Gates said he would make further recommendations to the Board of Supervisors next week as a result of the judge’s end-of-summer deadline.

In an additional effort to ease overcrowding at the men’s jail, Gates last week also asked Orange County judges to hold weekend arraignments in an effort to speed up the handling of misdemeanor cases. However, the judges turned him down.


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