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Jail Proposal Angers Officials in Orange : Corrections: Theo Lacy facility could expand from current 1,326 inmate beds to 4,480 under a ‘worst-case scenario’ envisioned in a county report. But Supervisor Steiner says that’s highly unlikely.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The county’s Theo Lacy Branch Jail, located in Orange, could triple in size and house more maximum-security inmates under a proposal released Thursday by the county.

The plan, calling for up to 4,480 beds at the jail under emergency circumstances, was described as an unlikely “worst case scenario” by county officials, but it was enough to anger Orange city officials already alarmed by the transfer of maximum-security inmates to the branch jail.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. July 30, 1994 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday July 30, 1994 Orange County Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Column 3 Metro Desk 2 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Jail expansion--A story Friday erroneously reported what could be demolished as part of an expansion plan for Theo Lacy Branch Jail in Orange. The county’s 24-bed Intermediate Care Facility for troubled children could be demolished, officials said, but not the adjacent Orangewood Children’s Home.

“The main county jail is supposed to be in Santa Ana. It’s not supposed to be in Orange,” said Councilwoman Joanne Coontz. “What’s so disappointing about this is not the fact that prisoners are being jailed, but the fact that they are being jailed in our community, with the addition of high-risk inmates.”

County Supervisor William G. Steiner, who recently was appointed to negotiate with Orange officials in hope of reaching a compromise, stressed Thursday that it is unlikely the jail will ever hold 4,480 beds, the worst case outlined in the report.

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That scenario calls for the expanded jail to operate at twice its normal capacity under emergency circumstances, which the report calls “highly unlikely.”

“Frankly, I think that the (environmental review) process will clearly demonstrate that this site cannot support the worst-case scenario,” said Steiner, who added that the adjacent Orange County Animal Shelter and Orangewood Children’s Home would have to be demolished.

“The support facilities would be totally overloaded. It’s not very practical to accommodate 4,480 inmates because it would use every square inch of the facility,” he said.

If the expanded jail operates at “crowded capacity,” as all county jails currently do, the expansion probably would increase beds there from the current 1,326 to 3,378, according to Steiner and the report.

“This represents the beginning point in a lengthy process that could be challenged each step of the way,” Steiner said. “The end result could be something completely different that the county and the city of Orange could live with.”

After a 30-day period for public comments, the county will prepare a draft environmental impact report on the expansion, probably by November. The final EIR will not come before the Board of Supervisors until March, 1995, according to a schedule of anticipated key dates.

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Steiner said the EIR will examine alternatives to expanding Theo Lacy, including increasing the number of inmates at the main jail in Santa Ana and expanding the James A. Musick Branch Jail in Irvine.

The report paints a grim picture of Orange County’s exploding inmate population, and projects a need for at least 7,000 new jail beds by 2006. Steiner said the report, released by the Environmental Management Agency, was drafted under the guidance of the Sheriff’s Department.

“Obviously, the whole scenario reflects the severe pressure on the jail system to accommodate inmates,” he said.

The report calls for three phases of expansion at Theo Lacy. The first, which Steiner said would cost $3.8 million a year for personnel and could be accomplished “very quickly,” would add 358 beds by double bunking in already existing cells.

The second phase calls for construction of two additional housing units that would hold 614 new beds. The third phase would involve construction of up to seven more housing units for 1,080 more beds, bringing the jail to “maximum capacity.”

The final two phases would occur “over a period of years,” said Steiner, costing $53 million to build and an additional $40 million yearly for personnel.

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“You’re talking about a very significant expenditure,” he said.

Coontz said she is open to negotiations with Steiner and believes he is doing his best to compromise with the city. But she remains convinced that Orange will be forced to bear the brunt of the county’s jail expansion.

“We are continuing to get the expansion because no one else in the county wants it,” she said. “It seems like it’s time that the county starts to work cooperatively with us, instead of operating secretly and then dropping their plan on us.”

Proposals to expand Theo Lacy and the county’s transfer of 48 maximum-security inmates there in April have enraged officials in Orange, who say high-risk inmates and the sheer volume of prisoners could endanger homeowners and hurt local business.

Orange officials filed a lawsuit against the county in May, saying the transfer of prisoners violates state law, a court order and action by the Board of Supervisors. But county officials counter that the sheriff has full authority in managing the jail system as he sees fit.

The proposed expansion outlined in Thursday’s report calls for new inmates to range from minimum- to maximum-security. Steiner said he thinks the sheriff should be granted the flexibility to house high-risk inmates there.

The report could serve as a launching point for negotiations with Orange officials regarding the future of the facility, he said.

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