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Countywide : Officials to Discuss Jail Overcrowding

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Prompted by dire projections for even more severe jail overcrowding into the next decade, Board of Supervisors Chairman Harriett M. Wieder has scheduled a meeting Tuesday with Sheriff Brad Gates and other officials to discuss possible recommendations outlined in a recent jail study.

Wieder said Friday that she was encouraged that cities were being urged to either expand or build new jails of their own because of the county’s chronic overcrowding problems.

Those suggestions were included in a report authored by an Orange County “supercommittee” of the League of California Cities.

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“I want to go over these recommendations, and maybe we can lift ourselves off dead center,” Wieder said. “We need the cities’ help. The problem is that we have never communicated with them.”

Jail overcrowding has dogged the county and its 31 cities for the past decade, forcing governments to adopt increasingly liberal cite-and-release programs that allow suspects in misdemeanor cases to go free while awaiting trial and after sentencing.

In 13 years, the study indicated, prisoners would outnumber available jail beds by 5,295.

Of an array of proposals offered in the league’s report, Wieder said she was most encouraged by the potential for creating criminal justice taxing districts that would direct all fees to the construction and operation of new jail facilities.

Although a 1991 effort to raise funds for jail development failed when voters overwhelmingly rejected a half-cent sales tax increase, Wieder said the league’s recommendation for taxing districts merited further consideration.

“A lot is at stake here,” Wieder said. “I’m very encouraged by their (league’s) initiative.”

Wieder said she has also asked Scott Diehl, a San Clemente councilman and league president, to attend the noon meeting in her office.

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