Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates won authorization from the Board of Supervisors Tuesday to hire 101 more employees to cope with jail expansion, but he also got a warning that "non-essential" programs in his office may be cut to help pay the cost.
Gates said he needs 90 permanent positions and 11 temporary slots, at an estimated cost of $2.8 million a year, for security, transportation, investigation and general support at the main men's jail in Santa Ana and the branch jails in Orange and El Toro.
The branch jails have been expanded in the past 14 months to house inmates transferred from the main jail, after U.S. District Judge William P. Gray found the county in contempt for not meeting his 1978 order to reduce overcrowding in the Santa Ana facility.
At the time of Gray's March, 1985, ruling, there were about 2,000 inmates in the men's jail. Currently there are fewer than 1,400 on weekdays.
Supervisor Harriett Wieder said the need for more manpower meant "we may have to cut out some non-essential programs" to save money. "For example, it might appear consideration might have to be given to such programs as maintaining our helicopter fleet," Wieder said.
It costs $1 million a year to operate the Sheriff's Department's two helicopters, known as Duke 1 and Duke 2, a Wieder aide said.
The supervisors ordered the county administrative office to study what programs in the sheriff's office could be cut.
In a related matter, supervisors called for a speeded-up study of where the county can find room for the 600 additional jail beds Gates said he will need by the end of the year to meet Gray's directive to keep the jail population below 1,400.
Supervisor Bruce Nestande said the county administrative office should report back by June 17, rather than in September as originally scheduled, on what additional steps can be taken to ease the overcrowding.
Nestande added that one method might be weekend arraignments, which have been "under study at all times, but nothing ever seems to happen."
The jail population increases on weekends as newly arrested people are booked but then forced to wait until Monday to be formally charged with their crimes or set free, he said. However, judges have objected to weekend arraignments in the past.
'Seven Days a Week'
"Perhaps some of the judges may say, 'Well, we don't want to work on the weekends,' " Nestande said. "Well, I say fine, then don't apply to be a judge. . . . The system ought to work seven days a week."
Nestande said the county should also examine the possibility of keeping nonviolent inmates at home, using electronic monitors to make sure they remain there. San Diego County is about to begin such a system and several states are also trying it, he noted.
In addition, Nestande questioned whether some jobs in the jails could be turned over to lower-paid, non-sworn personnel, who earn less than sheriff's deputies. He also suggested that the county determine whether to relieve Gates of responsibility for the jail and turn it over to a department of corrections that reports to the supervisors.
Supervisors' Chairman Ralph B. Clark also ordered that the county's administrative office find out if the capacity of existing jails can be expanded, perhaps by adding more floors.