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A Jail Proposal With Merit

July 06, 1986

Reducing the overcrowded conditions at the Orange County Jail is only one problem Sheriff-Coroner Brad Gates and the county Board of Supervisors must resolve. In addition to providing more lockup space, ways must also be found to fund the heavy jail operating costs, like staffing.

One approach the county administrative office is suggesting the supervisors consider to help reduce jail costs is the formation of a separate county corrections department to assume some or all of the sheriff's jail operations. The supervisors will be considering that idea Tuesday along with other jail recommendations the staff is seeking permission to study in depth. The full study should be ordered.

As it is, the Sheriff's Department, which runs the jail system, uses sworn deputies fresh out of the police academy. The new officers are required to serve their time as jailers for several years before going out into the street on patrol.

We don't see why Orange County continues to use the deputies when most of them want to be street cops and the job of jailer can be done just as efficiently, safely and more economically with civilian correction officers who want to work in the correctional facilities. In addition to the lower salaries involved using civilian corrections officers, the task of recruiting new deputies would be far easier and their morale much better if they didn't have to do "jail" time before being assigned patrol duties.

The county board will be holding hearings later this month on a proposed $1.26-billion budget. The board has asked virtually all county agencies to hold the line on expenditures. But the costs of building and operating new lockup facilities to comply with the federal court order to reduce jail overcrowding are going to be felt in county budgets for many years to come.

That makes it all the more imperative to find ways to reduce jail costs now.

The idea of using professional corrections officers instead of higher paid sheriff's deputies is not new. Most other counties in the state, such as Ventura's department of correctional services that employs civilian jailers to supervise minimum security prisoners, use a combination of deputies and trained civilians.

It's time that Orange County did, too. A county department of corrections could save sorely needed tax dollars without sacrificing jail security. It also would help put more police officers on the street to do the job they were trained for--catching the criminals, rather than overseeing them in their cells.

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