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O.C. supervisors agree to solicit bids for expanded Irvine jail campus

O.C. supervisors agree to solicit bids for expanded Irvine jail campus
Currently home to a minimum-security jail, Irvine's James A. Musick Facility will be transformed into a 896-bed complex on the 100-acre property. It should be complete by December 2021. (File Photo)

The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to solicit bids from four pre-qualified contractors for a $167-million expansion of the James A. Musick Facility — a minimum-security jail in Irvine.

The decision launches the next stage of the Orange County Sheriff Department’s effort to grow its jail system.

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Bernards Bros., Clark Construction Group, McCarthy Building Cos. and S.J. Amoroso Construction Co. are in the running to build a 896-bed complex on the 100-acre property. Their bids are due by June 19.

Robert Beaver, senior director of the sheriff’s administrative command, said the new construction will incorporate a modern design that drastically reduces the amount of time inmates spend being moved to different amenities, such as the cafeteria, recreation yard and basic medical clinic.

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This shuffling typically presents inmates with more opportunities to attack jail staffers and each other. The Musick Facility’s new design incorporates these functions into its housing unit so inmates will only need to leave for dental and medical visits and court appearances.

“The safety of the staff and inmates is of the utmost concern, obviously,” Beaver said. “We’re certainly excited about breaking ground after more than 20 years of planning.”

The new jail could be completed as early as December 2021, Beaver said.

The county conducted an environmental impact report in 1996 for its plan to grow Musick to 7,584 beds by 2030. However, the project came to a halt in the early 2000s because of a lack of funding, court documents state.

That changed when the state Legislature passed a bill that provided construction funding for jail expansion projects to deal with overcrowding.

Shortly after the Board of Supervisors voted to apply for new funding in 2011, Irvine filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block the construction, arguing that too much time had passed since the county conducted its environmental impact report.

That legal fight came to an end in 2015 when an appellate court ruled the county had sufficiently studied the environmental impacts.

Initially, the first phase included spending $100 million from a state bill on a 512-bed expansion. However, in 2012, another bill unlocked funding for medical, dental, mental health treatment facilities and inmate housing. Orange County successfully applied for another $80 million to add another 384 beds, bringing the total to 896.

As a condition of receiving this new funding, the Sheriff’s Department will include private and group spaces for mental and behavioral health treatment. There will also be space for substance abuse treatment groups and employment training.

The Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs sued its department and former sheriff in 2016, alleging understaffing and unsafe jail conditions led to the escape of three inmates at Men’s Central Jail in Santa Ana.

Tom Dominguez, president of the union, said the new facility is critical to jailing more violent and mentally ill inmates who were historically held at state prisons.

“We’re pleased that they’re moving forward with it [and] that they’re soliciting the bids because our system is outdated,” Dominguez said. “It’s not built for the type of inmates we’re seeing today. Deputy sheriffs aren’t trained to be mental health professionals. Our expectation is that it will be adequately staffed with mental health professionals to deal with the population.”

With a new sheriff and some new Irvine City Council members in office, Irvine Councilman Anthony Kuo said there’s an opportunity to bring fresh ideas for how to build and operate the jail in a way that works for both the Sheriff’s Department and his city’s residents.

“I’ve always been a big believer that you get things done by not poking each other in the eye,” Kuo said. “I don’t think an impasse on one issue prevents us from coming to a resolution on another. We have people unfortunately who have done some bad things and need to go somewhere and that includes jails.”

Daniel Langhorne is a contributor to Times Community News. Reporting contributed by Hannah Fry.

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