Vowing not to release convicts early, the Board of Supervisors appointed a special task force on Wednesday to study other means of complying with a federal court order to relieve overcrowding at the Orange County Jail, including setting up emergency prison camps on county-owned property.
Supervisors specifically discussed the use of Quonset huts, prefabricated shelters of corrugated metal.
Wednesday's board action was in response to U.S. District Judge William P. Gray in Los Angeles, who on Monday found Sheriff Brad Gates and county supervisors in criminal contempt of his 1978 order to reduce overcrowding at the main County Jail in Santa Ana.
'A Last Resort'
Gates had raised the possibility of releasing so-called "low-risk" prisoners to reduce the jail population "only as a last resort," but supervisors balked even at that concept.
"This board is going to take no action, under any condition, to pre-release anybody who is serving a sentence and is in there (jail) for a conviction," Supervisor Bruce Nestande said. "And as far as I'm concerned, that's not even a consideration."
Gray levied a $50,000 fine and delayed for 60 days an order that would add additional fines of $10 a day for every inmate denied a bed for more than one night.
The jail's official capacity is 1,191, and it has bunks for 1,530. But its daily population is usually 2,000 and more. That means hundreds of inmates end up sleeping on mats on the floor in day rooms and in the shower and toilet rooms, and on "the beach," the eight-foot-wide walkway in front of the cells.
Gates had gambled that the judge was willing to wait until a new intake-release center next to the existing jail is completed in 1987. Instead, the judge cited Gates' failure to seek money from county supervisors for emergency, temporary inmate housing that, ironically, county officials are now considering.
One board member took a swipe at the American Civil Liberties Union, which successfully sought Judge Gray's contempt citation.
"The ACLU definitely wants to be involved with this," Supervisor Roger Stanton said. "I think the thrust of where they're going is early release or perhaps mass releases of some of these people. And I'll tell you, my constituency--at least those who have expressed opinions--are very much against that."
Richard Herman, the ACLU attorney involved in the federal court case, has repeatedly called for early release programs or sentences that involve alternatives to jail terms as a means of reducing the jail population.
While opposing an early release of prisoners, Nestande did suggest that ways be found to transfer more prisoners to minimum security facilities.
A task force was appointed by the board on Wednesday that includes Gates; Supervisors Chairman Thomas F. Riley; Larry Holms, acting county chief administrative officer; County Counsel Adrian Kuyper and R.A. Scott, General Services Agency director.
They were ordered to prepare a plan for complying with Judge Gray's order and to submit regular progress reports. The board did not tell the new task force what options to explore.
But the board discussed a county declaration of emergency that would allow the Board of Supervisors to bypass normal bidding procedures and contract directly with a company to speed up and complete the planned expansion of existing minimum security facilities.
The task force was also directed to compile a list of actions already taken in an effort to satisfy Judge Gray and to report that list to the board within two weeks.
Meanwhile, Gates was ordered to report to the board in two weeks on the number of state and federal prisoners housed in the County Jail and on how the county might free itself of commitments to handle such prisoners.
Gates is also expected to report on the different types of prisoners being housed and what levels of security are needed to house each category.
The board also asked Michael Schumacher, chief probation officer, to advise a committee of board members on proposals for alternative, non-jail sentences and requested an update of projected incarceration figures for future years.