More holding areas have been opened to ease overcrowding in cells where Orange County Jail inmates are kept on their way to and from court appearances, and an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer said Monday that he will not press a federal lawsuit based on overcrowding claims.
ACLU lawyer Richard P. Herman filed the lawsuit Jan. 8 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, charging that conditions in the holding cells were dangerous and inhumane.
Herman agreed at a hearing before U.S. District Judge William P. Gray Monday that the problem had been solved with a decision by the county marshal's office to open unused holding areas and limit the number of inmates in the main holding cell to 66. Notices of the maximum occupancy will be posted.
"It seems everything is resolved satisfactorily, and we are delighted with the outcome," Herman said. But he said he would revive the lawsuit if overcrowding occurs again.
County Counsel Edward Duran said changes to end overcrowding were made even before the ACLU filed its lawsuit.
County Marshal James C. Byham said he had hired Lawrence G. Grossman, a former federal prison warden who has been overseeing jail overcrowding problems for the federal courts, to advise him on needed changes in the operation of the holding cells. Byham said he had implemented nearly all of Grossman's suggestions.
Byham said the problem of overcrowding was relieved by bringing in eight deputy marshals earlier each morning to staff additional holding cells. He estimated the cost of overtime to the deputies at $300 to $400 a day.
When inmates in the county jail have court appearances, they are taken by bus to the specified courthouse in the county and kept in holding cells until they are taken to a courtroom. After their appearances, they are returned to the holding cells until they are transported back to the main jail.
Herman, who has also sued the county to end overcrowding in the main men's jail in downtown Santa Ana, said that although there are seats for 66 inmates in the main holding cell in the basement of the Santa Ana courthouse, on occasions there have been as many as 120 inmates in the cell.