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Factions Square Off in Feud Over Plans for New County Jail

Times Staff Writer

Despite Ventura County Supervisor John Flynn’s attempts to rally support for building a new jail at the Government Center, all four of his board colleagues say they lean toward building the jail in a rural area that would allow for future expansion.

Their sentiments spell an uphill fight for Flynn, who needs backing by three of the five board members to move forward.

“I don’t think John’s got the votes on the board to do this,” said Supervisor Jim Dougherty, echoing the sentiments of other board members. “We have to put in a facility that can be added on to later, and to not plan for that is not facing up to reality.”

In addition, Flynn’s plan is headed for problems in the environmental review process, said a county official familiar with the jail project.

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“Traffic would be a very, very big . . . concern environmentally. There are serious concerns with constructing the jail at the Government Center at this time,” said Dave Robertson, a county senior administrative analyst.

Flynn, who has held two news conferences in three weeks to publicize his plan, said his proposal meets minimum state jail requirements by using available funds. He criticized Sheriff John Gillespie’s plan as providing “luxuries” and said ferrying inmates to and from a remote rural jail for hearings would also add to traffic.

Flynn added that the “man on the street” supports him, even if the bureaucrats do not.

“I’ve had 50 calls in support of my plan,” Flynn said, adding of his detractors that “I think I’ve got the whole group on the run.”

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Dougherty said those supporters probably do not include residents near the East Valley sheriff’s station outside Thousand Oaks, where Flynn wants to add 50 beds.

“I know those people and they would go sky-high if you tried to put 50 beds out there,” Dougherty said.

Flynn hopes for a groundswell of public backing and has called for a meeting with the sheriff to discuss their respective plans. He also said at Tuesday’s board meeting that he looks forward to airing his views at public hearings before the board’s vote.

Beset by jail overcrowding and a growing inmate population, Ventura County needs a new jail. The county must pick a site and start construction by fall, 1990, to qualify for state bond monies. Five locations are under environmental review, including Todd Road between Ventura and Santa Paula off California 126, two locations off Pleasant Valley Road, an area near Rancho Sespe and the county Government Center in Ventura.

400-Cell Facility

In the past several months, Flynn has emerged as a determined champion of building a 400-cell jail at the Government Center and expanding county facilities at the Honor Farm in Ojai, the East Valley sheriff’s station and a work furlough program at Rose Valley.

Flynn bases his proposal on figures he extrapolated from a state-of-the-art, multistory jail in Sacramento built for 1,200 inmates. Gillespie, in a news conference last week, lambasted Flynn’s figures, calling them deliberately skewed. He called the calculations “an irresponsible example of misleading, incomplete information based upon incorrect assumptions.”

In a news conference Monday, Flynn discussed his figures in more detail but failed to sway the sheriff. Gillespie maintains that Flynn’s proposal does not provide enough room and would cost double the $25 million that Flynn has estimated.

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Gillespie and several supervisors say they are disconcerted that Flynn is waging his campaign in the media instead of coming to them.

“This is the sort of thing we normally do not do in Ventura,” said Supervisor Susan Lacey, adding that she did not believe that Flynn had garnered any support for his plan. “I didn’t know he’d had a press conference--the first big one--and I felt uncomfortable answering questions when I hadn’t seen the proposal.”

Favors Campus Style

Lacey said she favors Gillespie’s plan over Flynn’s. “The sheriff and deputies are very much in favor of a campus-style jail. Based on the conversations I’ve had, I tend to support that.”

Supervisor Madge L. Schaefer said she supports the sheriff’s plan because it allocates money and space for an extensive inmate job-training program that would eventually create products, and thus revenue, to partially offset the cost of incarceration.

“It’s a choice of building a warehouse or a facility that provides a revenue-generator,” Schaefer said.

Flynn, in rebuttal, has said corrections industries are inefficient and notorious for their steep costs.

“Factories run by government don’t work,” he said. Instead, Flynn favors having inmates provide labor to public works programs.

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Cost Concerns

Supervisor Maggie Erickson, who said she is leaning toward the sheriff’s plan but reserving final judgment of Flynn’s plan, said, “There are a lot of people who are saying to us if you can build it cheaper at the Government Center, you should do it there.”

She expressed concern over whether prisoners would have enough room, despite Flynn’s calculation that his plan would more than meet minimum state requirements of 105 square feet of space per prisoner.

Like the other supervisors, Erickson expressed irritation at Flynn’s methods of promoting his proposal.

“I don’t think it serves the people of Ventura to have the sheriff and one member of the board debating something the entire board should decide,” Erickson said.

Some of the issues that have been raised in recent weeks include:

Expanding Rose Valley: The sheriff’s office is expected to open a 160-person work furlough program within several weeks at this Ojai site. Flynn claims that Rose Valley can be expanded to accommodate another 150 inmates; the sheriff’s office says it cannot.

According to a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, which owns the land and leases it to the county, environmental considerations ranging from waste disposal to traffic to water prohibit expanding the facilities at Rose Valley.

Flynn disagrees with this assessment, saying he plans to enlist the support of state legislators and top U.S. Forest Service policy-makers for his proposal.

Inmates sentenced to work furlough pay room and board to live at special correctional facilities but are allowed to maintain their regular jobs. After their workday, they must immediately report back to the work furlough site.

* Separate facilities: Some county officials say jails must segregate pretrial and sentenced inmates in separate facilities in order to qualify for state jail bond money. They criticize Flynn’s plan, saying it doesn’t do that.

But according to the state Board of Corrections, such segregation is not necessary, provided that counties separate inmates according to the severity of their crimes.

* Operating costs: State officials and private jail consultants say multistory jails, such as the one proposed by Flynn, usually cost more to build than campus-style jails, like the one proposed by Gillespie. However, there are no known studies indicating whether vertical or campus-style jails cost more to run, according to Fred Campbell, a consultant with the Criminal Justice Research Foundation, a nonprofit research group in Sacramento.

The state Board of Corrections is conducting such a study, according to spokeswoman Karen Rosa.

TWO SIDES OF THE JAIL CONFLICT PLAN

Sherriff John Gillespie: A 768-bed campus-style jail on about 100 acres in a rural area.

Supervisor John Flynn: A 400-bed three-story jail on land now used for parking at the County Government Center. The parking lot would be replaced by a 1,000-car garage.

Additional inmate space would be provided by 150 extra beds at Rose Valley Work Furlough program; 100 beds at the Honor Farm near Ojai and 50 beds at the East Valley sheriff’s station.

Plan also calls for alternative forms of incarceration, such as “electronic handcuffs,” and expanding work-furlough programs.

EXPANSION

Gillespie: Up to 2,000 beds, which would meet jail needs for 10 to 15 years.

Flynn: Plan meets current needs with available funding. Add to other sites as needed.

COST

Gillespie: $65 to $70 million.

Flynn: $25 million, including $6 million for parking structure.

AREA

Gillespie: 504 square feet per inmate.

Flynn: 139 square feet per inmate.

FUNDING

Gillespie: $30 million in state jail bonds, $10 million in earmarked state funds, plus revenue from prisoners’ work, a possible half-cent sales tax, or general obligation bonds.

Flynn: $19 million in state jail bonds, $6 million for parking structure from other sources. JOB SKILLS TRAINING

Gillespie: A variety of programs, including possible computer training and auto shop.

Flynn: No proposed plans. Inmates would clean beaches, do flood-control work and similar jobs.

REASONS

Gillespie: A campus-style jail is cheaper to operate in the long run because it requires less staff than a multistory jail. Putting all new jail operations under one roof makes more economic sense than spreading it out over four sites. This plan offers room for expansion and a rehabilitation and training program that aims at reducing recidivism.

Flynn: A new jail at the County Government Center would meet current minimum requirements with money available today. It would reduce traffic and save staff time used in transporting prisoners to and from court. It is cheaper than Gillespie’s plan; multistory jails are not more costly to operate than single-level jails. It would save taxpayers money they’d otherwise spend on jail work-training programs, which he claims are ineffective.


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