Creating "sobering up stations," reviving the dormant county parole board and expanding work release programs for inmates are among eight options under study to relieve overcrowding at the Orange County Jail, officials said Wednesday.
In a report made public Wednesday, a task force created by county supervisors to make recommendations on jail crowding said it is also considering some plans for reduced jail sentences and increased transfer of some inmates to mental health facilities. "Put them all together and I do not think it will make the kind of dent necessary to solve overcrowding at the jail," said county Probation Officer Michael Schumacher, a task force member. "But it can have a moderate effect. I think all of the options are worth trying.
"The public has taken a tougher attitude on sentencing; that's why we have a saturation point in our jails. Whether we can reduce the population depends a lot on whether there's a shift in public attitude."
U.S. District Judge William P. Gray found Sheriff Brad Gates and the county supervisors in criminal contempt for failing to comply with his seven-year-old order that all inmates be given a bed. Up to 500 inmates have had to sleep on mats on the floor in recent months because of overcrowding at the men's jail. The jail has a capacity of 1,191 and bunks for 1,530. But its daily count is usually more than 2,000. Gray also levied a $10-per-day fine for each inmate who has to sleep on the floor more than one night, but he stayed that order for 60 days.
Gates has ordered 500 bunks from a company in Sacramento to help reduce overcrowding at the jail, the task force reported to the supervisors. But the sheriff's office reportedly has been told the bunks would not be immediately available. Sheriff's spokesman Dick Olson Wednesday refused to confirm or deny that the bunks had been ordered.
It's not known whether those bunks would be placed in the men's jail in downtown Santa Ana or at other county jail facilities--the Theo Lacy facility in Orange or the James A. Musick honor farm near the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.
County spokesman Edward Duran, a deputy county counsel, said the 500 new bunks will help solve the immediate problem of complying with the judge's order to get inmates off the floor.
"But once that's done, I'm sure the judge will come up with other orders that we reduce overcrowding," Duran said. "More bunks helps, but it's not the solution."
Board of Supervisors Chairman Thomas F. Riley, also a task force member, said Wednesday he doesn't think the supervisors will favor any recommendations that would mean releasing inmates who might pose a public risk. But Riley said he hopes the task force can find ways to reduce the population without damaging public safety.
After the judge's order, Supervisors Bruce Nestande and Roger Stanton said they did not favor programs that would mean either mass releases or early releases of convicted inmates. But Riley said Wednesday the judge's order "makes it pretty clear we've got to do something about overcrowding."
Among the options under study by the board are:
- Creating "sobering up stations" where people arrested for being drunk in public would be held, rather than placing them in jail.
Community resistance to sobering up stations will be the major obstacle, Schumacher said.
"It's not something the public is fond of because no one wants a place for drunks in their neighborhood," he said.
A county task force recommended a centrally located sobering up station in Santa Ana in 1983, but the plan died because of tremendous resistance from the Santa Ana City Council and Santa Ana Police Chief Ray Davis. State regulations require that drunks must be kept in custody no less than four hours and no more than 24 hours.
Schumacher states in his report that the sobering up stations could significantly reduce the jail population but does not include statistics on how much that could be.
- Revitalize the county parole board, which has the power to release inmates who have been sentenced to up to a year in jail. Most defendants in this group have been convicted of misdemeanors.
When created in 1965, the board handled about 80 cases a month. That number has dwindled to almost nothing, Schumacher said, because of other early release programs and plea-bargained cases in which a defendant agrees to forgo parole eligibility and serves his sentence in the County Jail rather than state prison.
"But we still have a lot of inmates eligible for the local parole board who don't use it," Schumacher said. "Primarily what we're recommending is an effort by the county to increase the inmates' awareness that this option is available."
- Expansion of a now-experimental program in which authorities search for defendants who fail to appear in court but do not automatically jail them when they are found.
Instead, in the experimental pre-bench warrant program in North Municipal Court authorities try to persuade defendants to appear voluntarily.