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Sheriff Urges Governor to Sign Jail Bill : Legislation: Gates says Gypsum Canyon facility would eliminate early release programs that have freed more than 216,000 prisoners in five years.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sheriff Brad Gates on Tuesday urged Gov. Pete Wilson to sign a controversial bill that could clear the way for construction of a new county jail in Gypsum Canyon, and he offered to meet with Wilson personally to explain the need for the legislation.

“Governor, this issue is extremely important to me,” wrote Gates, who is recovering from recent hernia surgery. “I need your help.”

A spokesman for Assemblyman Tom Umberg (D-Garden Grove), who sponsored the legislation, said Umberg welcomed Gates’ support since the sheriff “knows firsthand the problems that we are facing because of jail overcrowding.”

In his letter, Gates told Wilson that building a new jail in Gypsum Canyon, near Anaheim, offers the only way to eliminate early release programs that have freed more than 216,000 prisoners during the past five years.

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“The sad part of all this is we know what these criminals are doing--committing more crimes,” Gates wrote, “This process does not allow the district attorney or the courts to do their job of removing criminals from our communities and sentencing them to jail.”

According to Gates’ letter, 73% of the criminals released to make room in crowded jails have criminal records, and 14% have serious criminal histories, with offenses such as burglary, drug dealing, kidnaping and assaulting police officers.

Opponents of the Gypsum Canyon jail do not dispute the need to curb the early release programs, but they argue that the canyon jail proposal is too extravagant and would cost the county upwards of $1 billion that is badly needed for other financially strapped programs.

Although a three-member majority of the County Board of Supervisors supports construction of a Gypsum Canyon jail, state law requires four votes in order to condemn land. A bill sponsored by Umberg--and passed by both houses of the Legislature--would reduce that number to three in the Gypsum Canyon issue, clearing the way for the board majority to proceed.

The county still has not identified a way to pay for the property even if it condemns it, however, so the effect of Wilson’s signature, if he gives it, is still unclear. Some supervisors have proposed that the county build a landfill in the canyon and use garbage collection fees to help pay for the land.

Supervisors Don R. Roth and Gaddi H. Vasquez are fiercely opposed to the canyon jail and to the Umberg bill. They and other opponents are urging Wilson to veto the measure.

Wilson has not yet indicated what action he expects to take.


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