ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Time to Deal in Jail Realities

The long-awaited report is in, and it's not good news for those who would like to fob off Orange County's jail crisis on others. The county staff report concludes that the cost of building a jail on the remote Chiricao Summit in Riverside County--156 miles from downtown Santa Ana--would be "staggering" when compared with building and operating a jail at Gypsum Canyon in the Anaheim Hills.

Yes, the Chiricao Summit site would cost less initially, the report said. But that would be offset by the high cost of transportation, site preparation, water and sewer hookups, heat and air-conditioning. All told, in 30 years the county would spend $240 million more for Chiricao than for Gypsum, the report says.

These conclusions displeased Supervisor Don R. Roth, who raised the hopes of many that the county could rid itself of the need to build a new jail within its own boundaries. Roth complains that the report underestimates the cost of Gypsum Canyon--owned by the Irvine Co.--and overestimates the cost of running a jail at Chiricao Summit.

But now Roth and the board need to provide leadership to help Orange County face its jail problem squarely. The county has been under a court order for more than 10 years to increase jail space. Last year, more than 50,000 criminals were freed because of overcrowding--an average of one every 10 minutes. That can't be allowed to continue.

Three years ago, the board, by a 3-2 vote, picked Gypsum Canyon as the best site, with Roth and Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez, whose district includes the canyon, opposing. An agreement to condemn the land for purchase takes four votes, but even in the face of the county's own report, the two supervisors remain opposed. So what did they expect this report to do--confirm their own views?

Orange County must resolve its own jail crisis. There may be alternatives to Gypsum Canyon close to home, but talk of building it in another county only puts off a day of reckoning with problems of financing and operating a new jail facility.

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