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State’s 1st Program of Kind : Drunk Drivers to Do Their Time in Motel

Times Staff Writer

Under a program that officials believe is the first of its kind in the state, Orange County on Monday began moving convicted drunk drivers from a branch jail into a Buena Park motel.

Five of these minimum-security inmates were transferred Monday from the James A. Musick branch jail to the motel, which for two years has been used as a halfway house for prisoners serving the last few weeks of their sentences. Officials said the unusual new policy would save the county some money and would slightly ease chronic jail overcrowding.

Over the next two months, officials plan to move up to 80 inmates, all drunk-driving offenders, into 40 rooms at the 188-unit Commonwealth Manor Motel at 8550 Commonwealth Ave. in Buena Park.

The motel housing will be available only to inmates who are serving sentences for drunk driving and who are on the county’s work-furlough program, under which prisoners are released to go to their jobs during the day and incarcerated at night.

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The program, approved by the Board of Supervisors in October, will be operated by a private corporation, Orange County Halfway House Inc., under contract with the county.

“These are a very low-risk type of individual because they are already contributing members of the community and they have a lot to lose” if they violate terms of their work furlough, said Rex J. Castellaw, chief deputy probation officer. “They know that, and we have better than a 95% success rate.”

The motel has been the site of a county halfway house, also operated by Orange County Halfway House, for about two years. As at most halfway houses, the prisoners have been serving the last few weeks of their sentences while being re-acclimated to a community environment.

Under that program, which will be discontinued, as many as 40 inmates have been housed at the motel. Most are completing sentences for nonviolent misdemeanors.

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County officials say the new program, under which some inmates will be assigned to serve their full sentences at the motel, is unique in California.

Halfway House Inc. will be responsible for maintaining the housing for the program and for monitoring the compliance of each inmate with the specific rules of his or her work-furlough sentence. The overall operation will be supervised by the county Probation Department.

‘Never Had Any Problems’

Castellaw, Buena Park officials and representatives of both the motel and Halfway House said they have received no complaints about the halfway house at the motel and expect none about the new program.

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“Half of the people don’t even know it’s here,” said Al Hoffman, resident manager of the motel. “For two years, we’ve never had any problems.”

Madeleine Wakamatsu, director of programs for Halfway House, said the regular motel units draw more police attention than the rooms used by the county.

“The city has not objected, and there haven’t been any complaints from the community,” Wakamatsu said.

According to a county fact sheet, it will be cheaper to house the 80 inmates in Buena Park than it would be to keep them at the Musick jail. The current annual cost for the 80 prisoners is $897,608, and the bill for the new program will be $851,676, the report said.

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Until now, all of the roughly 150 prisoners participating in the work-furlough program have been housed at the Musick jail. But Sheriff’s Department records show that Musick, like most county jail facilities, is far over its state-rated capacity, with about 1,000 male inmates.

There will be a small effect on the jail population. But Sheriff’s Lt. Richard J. Olson said the program will not relieve the most critical jail overcrowding problem--a shortage of maximum-security beds.

In response to court orders aimed at reducing jail overcrowding in Orange County, the Sheriff’s Department has implemented a cite-and-release program under which many people arrested for misdemeanor crimes are no longer jailed while they await trial. It is possible that the motel program, by opening up some space in the jail, could have a small effect on the cite-and-release program, Olson said.


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