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Orange May Still Sue : County Modifies Plan to Expand Branch Jail

Times County Bureau Chief

In an apparently unsuccessful effort to ward off a lawsuit by the City of Orange, the Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday to scale back its expansion of the Theo Lacy branch jail and not to house maximum-security inmates there.

Supervisor Don R. Roth, whose district encompasses the part of Orange that includes Lacy, successfully pushed for limiting the number of Lacy prisoners to 1,437, rather than the 1,737 proposed by county planners. Lacy’s average daily inmate population in recent weeks has been nearly 800. The 1,437-inmate limit was approved on a 5-0 vote.

The decision to house only minimum- and medium-security prisoners at Lacy came on a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Roger R. Stanton voting against excluding maximum-security inmates. Stanton said he believes the primary reason for expanding Lacy is to gain space for 300 more maximum-security inmates. Sheriff Brad Gates has said he needs that space to improve conditions at the main men’s jail in Santa Ana.

The original county staff plan for the Lacy expansion called for getting the extra space by transferring women inmates, including those classified as maximum-security risks, from the 300-bed women’s jail in Santa Ana to Lacy. Men would then be housed in what is now the women’s jail.

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Assistant Sheriff Jerry Krans and other county officials said that only about 40 women on any given day are classified as maximum-security inmates. Aides to the supervisors said the 40 could be housed in the Intake and Release Center in Santa Ana that is being phased in.

Despite Roth’s efforts to limit the number and kinds of inmates at Lacy, Orange Mayor Jess Perez said after the three-hour hearing on the expansion that “my intention right now is to recommend litigation.”

He said the City Council would meet next week to discuss whether to sue the county. A lawsuit would challenge the environmental impact report the supervisors ratified Wednesday on the ground that it did not explore all of the impact of the expansion, city officials said.

Perez and two other council members, Gene Beyer and Joanne Coontz, demanded that the county not expand Lacy. Perez and Coontz spoke at the hearing Wednesday.

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But the remaining two council members, Fred Barrera and Don Smith, had accepted the expansion and the presence of maximum-security women inmates under the county’s original plan because of the county’s jail-overcrowding problems.

Barrera and Smith, in a letter to the supervisors read by Smith at the meeting Wednesday, said they did want the county to reimburse the city for more costs imposed by the jail expansion, such as extra police patrols, and sought a restriction on the number of inmates released from Lacy each month.

Smith told the supervisors that he recognized “that the individual members of the board may be jailed” if they fail to comply with U.S. District Judge William P. Gray’s 1978 order--and subsequent orders--to improve conditions in the Orange County Jail.

In 1985, Gray found the supervisors and Gates in contempt of court for not heeding his 1978 order and later imposed limits on how many inmates may be held in the main men’s jail in Santa Ana.

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After the contempt ruling, the supervisors expanded Lacy and the James A. Musick branch jail near El Toro, accelerated construction on the Intake and Release Center and picked sites in Anaheim and Gypsum Canyon, near Anaheim Hills, for new jails.

Eighteen months ago, Sheriff Brad Gates began citing rather than jailing people arrested on minor charges while they awaited trial. Krans said more than 20,000 people have been cited and released under that program this year.

Wednesday’s hearing, though long, was not as emotional as the hearings at which the supervisors picked the Anaheim and Coal-Gypsum canyons jail sites. Anaheim is suing the county over the site within its boundaries--near Anaheim Stadium--and Anaheim Hills residents who live near Gypsum Canyon are trying to get an initiative on the ballot next year to require that all new jails be built in Santa Ana, the county seat.

Orange city officials and Susan Trager, the private attorney they hired to fight the jail expansion, spoke at Wednesday’s hearing, as did the three members of a citizens committee appointed by the City Council and an attorney for The City shopping center’s owners. But area homeowners did not appear.

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“No public official looks upon expansion or siting of so-called negative facilities, such as jails or dumps, in their districts with great enthusiasm,” Roth said in offering his plan to modify the expansion. “However, the fact remains that Orange County faces a serious jail-overcrowding crisis.”

William Steiner, executive director of the Orangewood Children’s Foundation, told Roth that the foundation’s board was “very appreciative and supportive of the compromise.”

The Orangewood home for abused and neglected children is part of the complex that houses Lacy and the UCI Medical Center. Steiner for months had urged the supervisors not to allow maximum-security inmates at Lacy and to scale back the expansion.


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