Planners Approve Environmental Report on Impact of Expanding Theo Lacy Jail

Times County Bureau Chief

The Orange County Planning Commission on Monday approved an environmental report for the expansion of the Theo Lacy branch jail in Orange and recommended that county supervisors add their approval next week.

In an effort to find more jail beds quickly, county staff members earlier this year proposed adding four new buildings that could hold up to 1,016 inmates, besides the 720 housed at the branch jail.

If supervisors approve the plan, it would mean that maximum-security inmates would be lodged at Lacy for the first time. However, two of the new buildings would be designed for women inmates rated as minimum, medium and maximum security risks.

County officials said the project would be built in stages, with the first 384 additional inmates brought to Lacy in November, 1988, if all goes according to plan.

But businesses in The City shopping center across the street from the Theo Lacy jail and Orange city officials have warned that they may file lawsuits to stop the expansion.

In a statement, Orange City Manager J. William Little accused opposing the expansion that the decision to add the 1,016 beds "has already been made" and the subsequent hearings were merely a "post hoc rationalization," contrary to state law.

County officials denied Little's charge and accused Orange of rejecting the county's requests to provide the city's specific complaints about the expansion plan.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider the Lacy expansion at its meeting on Dec. 2.

If built on schedule, Lacy would become the county's largest jail, overshadowing the main jail in downtown Santa Ana, which holds approximately 1,600 male and female inmates in separate wings.

The supervisors have approved plans for a huge 6,000-inmate jail in Gypsum and Coal canyons in the county's northeast, but neighbors are trying to gather signatures to place an initiative on next year's ballot. The proposed initiative would stop the canyon jail and require all new jails to be built in Santa Ana, the county seat.

The supervisors remain under a 1978 court order issued by U.S. District Judge William P. Gray to end overcrowding in the main jail. In 1985, Gray found the board and the sheriff in contempt for not heeding that order and has forced the county to gradually decrease the main jail's inmate population, in part by adding beds at other jail facilities.

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