The Orange County Jail remains too crowded, but the population is down and fewer inmates have to sleep on the floor than six weeks ago, according to a status report issued Thursday from the court-appointed special master.
The report also praised jail deputies for doing a good job under conditions in which "there are just too many inmates, too many things to do and too many unexpected happenings . . . ."
The population at the men's jail, which has a capacity of 1,191, ranged from 1,890 to 1,731 between April 18 and April 28, according to Lawrence G. Grossman, who was appointed special master by U.S. District Judge William Gray on March 25. Grossman added that between 166 and 280 inmates had to sleep on the floor more than one night during that period.
When Grossman was appointed, the population was averaging more than 2,000, with more than 500 inmates sleeping on the floor. Sheriff Brad Gates and his staff have made attempts to reduce the jail population by accepting very few federal and state inmates and by appealing to police agencies in Orange County to consider more carefully who among those arrested for minor offenses should be sent to the jail.
On March 18, Gray found Sheriff Brad Gates and the county supervisors in criminal contempt of violating his 7-year-old order to reduce overcrowding and fined the county $50,000. He also threatened to fine the county $10 a day for each inmate who had to sleep on the floor for more than one night if improvements are not made by May 18. The judge said he was giving the sheriff the one-night leeway because he understands that Gates does not control how many inmates are sent to the jail.
Gray asked Grossman to monitor crowding, eating and sleeping conditions. Eating and sleeping conditions were included in the overcrowding complaint brought before Gray in March by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Grossman's latest report states that as many as 392 inmates slept on the floor during the last half of April, but that the number of inmates who had to sleep on the floor for more than one night never reached 300.
Most of the men who sleep on the floor on mats have been housed in the dayrooms which are attached to the cells and where inmates may watch television and play cards.
Although most of those sleeping on the floor are in dayrooms, Grossman reported that on several nights he saw inmates sleeping in the toilet areas, one of the major complaints cited by the American Civil Liberties Union. Allowing inmates to sleep in toilet areas also is a violation of the jail's own policies.
Grossman found that inmates did not have eight uninterrupted hours of sleep for a single night during the latest period, primarily because of noise and bright lights.
"Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep (for inmates) does not seem likely until they are housed in areas other than dayrooms," Grossman stated in his report.
Lights Not Dimmed on Time
Grossman added that jail deputies do not always dim the lights at 9 p.m. as they are supposed to, but he said they do a good job under the circumstances, saying that overcrowding and overwork made it impossible for the deputies to perform the nightly security checks and have the lights out on time every night.
Grossman gave the sheriff's office good marks on the eating schedule. Each inmate was given the 15 minutes state codes recommend for each meal, his report states.
A county task force on overcrowded jail conditions, appointed by the Board of Supervisors, is putting together recommendations for alternatives to incarceration at the jail.
Grossman included in his report his fee charges--$1,528 so far at $37.50 an hour.