The Board of Supervisors approved plans Wednesday to expand the James A. Musick branch jail, while agreeing to try to swap the present El Toro site for a larger jail site in an outlying area of the county in the future.
Supervisors voted 4 to 0 to expand the minimum security jail from its present capacity of about 1,000 inmates to 1,535 and to build training academies for the Orange County Fire Department and Sheriff's Department on the 100-acre site. Supervisor Ralph B. Clark was not at the meeting.
The expansion is one of several methods county officials hope to use to alleviate jail overcrowding. The county has been under pressure to build more jail facilities since March, 1985, when a federal judge found the supervisors and Sheriff Brad Gates in contempt of court for failing to comply with an earlier order to provide a bunk for each inmate.
Musick was built in 1963 to house 200 men and 60 women. A majority of its inmates now sleep in tents and trailers.
In addition to expanding Musick, the county plans to build a maximum security jail in Anaheim that could house 1,500 inmates and a combined minimum and maximum security facility in a remote part of the county with space for up to 6,000 prisoners.
List of Sites Narrowed
A board-appointed committee Wednesday narrowed its list of recommended sites for the remote jail to four preferred and six secondary locations in eastern and south Orange County. Supervisor Bruce Nestande, whose district includes the Musick facility, suggested Wednesday that the county try to work out a deal to exchange the Musick site for whatever remote site the board ultimately agrees is the best place to build a new jail.
Nestande said that over the last three years he has informally discussed a swap with the owners of some of the possible jail sites.
"The prospects are marginally encouraging," he said.
If a land deal cannot be worked out, Nestande said, then Musick "must be improved . . . if for no other reason than to further improve security."
Several residents of nearby Serrano Park told the supervisors Wednesday that they opposed any expansion of the honor farm, from which about 30 inmates have escaped this year. The residents said that, in addition to the escapes, they were concerned about increased traffic and noise that the training academies, which are to include a weapons firing range, will generate.
But other Serrano Park residents who had spoken against the expansion at earlier public hearings said Wednesday that they were encouraged by the board's approval of several measures that will mitigate the jail expansion's impact on their neighborhood.
The board agreed to Supervisor Bruce Nestande's recommendations to fully enclose the firing range, eliminate a helipad and outdoor fire pit planned for the Fire Department training academy and submit the entire project to the county Planning Commission for public review and comment before final approval.
"They did about as much as they could do," said Marcel J. Fernandez, of the Serrano Park Homeowners Assn. "And it's nice to hear them say they will try to move it. . . . But the issue is not over. The real concern I have is if in fact the (expanded) facility will reduce escapes to an acceptable level."
Nestande said the construction of new buildings to replace the tents and trailers now used to house inmates would provide greater security, as would a 10-foot chain-link fence topped with razor wire that will surround the inmate housing.
Nestande also pointed out that the typical Musick escapee is not "some wacko who goes on a cross-country murder spree" but rather a drunk driver "who decides to walk away while picking raspberries." Recalling that his own son was once incarcerated at Musick for drunk driving, Nestande said: "It could be our neighbor or friend who's out there. It's an honor farm."
But Serrano Park resident Cathy Nelson disputed Nestande's characterization of Musick inmates, noting that a recent list of the jail population included criminals convicted of burglary, petty theft, child stealing and manufacturing a weapon.
"That's not normal people, like your son, that we're dealing with," Nelson said. "Every time we hear the helicopter circling above, you think . . . is he in your street? Where is he? Bring the children in. Bring in the dog. . . . This is unacceptable. It's unbearable."
At Wednesday's hearing, several residents brought up the shooting of one escaped Musick inmate in September, just a week after the first public hearing on the expansion plans. The inmate, Christopher William Albrecht, was shot and killed by a Laguna Beach policeman after wrestling with another officer who was trying to arrest him.
Record of Escapes
From Jan. 1 through Oct. 24 of this year, 30 prisoners escaped from Musick, according to a Sheriff's Department report. Ten were serving time for burglary, two for grand theft and two for auto theft. Two Peeping Toms escaped, as did two prisoners who had resisted arrest.
Five of the 30 escapees were serving time for drunk driving, according to the report.
Sheriff Gates told the board Wednesday that only prisoners who meet "very tight" criteria are sent to Musick. He said the selection of inmates suitable for the facility is "a very complex process" based on a set of numbers evaluating criminal histories, capacities for violent behavior and the probabilities of attempted escape.
Residents asked that Gates issue periodic reports to the board on what kinds of inmates are sent to Musick. Gates said he would cooperate. But the supervisors cannot force Gates, an independent elected official, to follow any particular reporting procedures as part of the Musick expansion.