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Study Says Jail Can Fight Inmate Violence : Corrections: Officials recommend more staffing, remodeling cellblocks and transferring prisoners.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Officials at the overcrowded Central Men’s Jail could combat increasing gang-related violence there by filling vacant staffing positions, remodeling some cellblocks and assigning some problem inmates to the Theo Lacy Branch Jail in Orange, according to a new study of jail conditions released this week.

The study, which found that a proliferation of street gang members in the Central Jail has spawned an increase in violence among inmates, was the product of a 3 1/2-day inspection of the facility last month by state Board of Corrections officials and a corrections consultant.

“The violence problem is significant and there is every indication that it will occur with increasing frequency and ferocity in the immediate future,” the report says. “It is imperative that the administration take effective steps to intervene in the pattern of escalating violence to assure a safe working environment for its employees and the safe custody of inmates committed to its care.”

The study found, for example, that the number of reported assaults by inmates increased to 168 during four months of 1992 studied by reviewers, up from 110 during the same months of 1991--even as the inmate population remained about the same. Officials estimate that the number of assaults for the same time period of 1993 will rise again to 185.

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The report found that 94% of assaults were committed by individual inmates against one another, or by inmate groups against a single inmate.

The report included some criticism of the Central Jail itself, which was built in 1968. The jail has an “outdated design that does not readily lend itself to modifications that will correct much of the problem of violence,” the report said. The jail was built to hold 900 inmates but currently houses 1,296, the most allowed under federal court rulings, jail officials said Tuesday.

“The ideal solution to the physical plant problem would be to replace it with a new facility that has a more functional modern design. However, the fiscal feasibility of such a solution exceeds the scope of this study,” according to the report’s authors.

The study was written by John Pederson and R. Neil Zinn, senior officials with the California Board of Corrections, and Ray Nelson, a Denver-based corrections consultant.

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Results of the study were forwarded to Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates, who runs the county’s jails, and U.S. District Judge Gary Taylor, who oversees a federal court order governing local jail operations.

The recommendation to move some problem or violent prisoners to the Theo Lacy Branch Jail highlights an unpopular issue with city officials in Orange, who have mounted lengthy legal battles to keep maximum-security inmates out of the facility.

A lawsuit brought by Orange city officials charged that Gates had secretly housed dangerous inmates at the branch jail in violation of earlier agreements between the county and city.

But a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled this spring that Gates never housed maximum-security inmates there. The judge’s decision does not preclude further expansion of Theo Lacy and the placement of maximum-security prisoners there, as long as a new environmental analysis is commissioned, County Counsel Terry C. Andrus has said.

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The new environment impact review has not been completed.

Jail officials and a Laguna Beach attorney who has long monitored jail conditions on behalf of inmates praised the study on Tuesday.

“I think that it illustrated the problems and set out ways to address the problems,"said Dick Herman, the prisoners rights attorney.

Assistant Sheriff Rocky Hewitt, who oversees the Central Men’s Jail, said: “We were excited to see they made some favorable comments about the professionalism and restraint and ability the deputies have to deal with the problems.”

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