Even though state regulations prohibit double-bunking, the Sheriff's Department said Tuesday that about 180 cells in a recently opened Orange County Jail facility in Santa Ana have been equipped with second beds.
Lt. Robert Rivas said that the department has not yet decided when it will add a second inmate to the new jail's cells and that the second bunks have been installed in case they become necessary.
The installation brings the county a step closer to implementing a plan to reduce jail overcrowding that was first announced last year. Basically, the county used state money to design and build the new jail cells for two people, even though that is prohibited in state regulations.
When the issue was first raised early last year, the state said it might seek financial penalties against the county if double-bunking was implemented before expiration of the state's agreement to pay for building the new jail, the Intake and Release Facility, which is next to the main jail. The new facility is already operating, and that agreement is scheduled to lapse in December.
Norma Lammers, executive director of the state Board of Corrections, said Tuesday that the panel will still consider financial sanctions against Orange County if it double-bunks inmates before the agreement expires.
But after that, she said there are no penalties the state can order for a violation of its rules. If the second bunks are occupied after December, she said the county will simply be notified that it is violating the state's regulations.
"We notice them as we do inspections and send a letter back that indicates they are in violation," Lammers said. "Our standards are not mandatory."
She also said that merely installing second beds does not represent a violation.
However, Richard P. Herman, a lawyer who has pursued litigation against the county on jail conditions on behalf the American Civil Liberties Union, said Tuesday he will file a complaint with the Board of Corrections if the county puts prisoners into the second bunks.
"What you have coming into the (new jail) is fresh arrestees, which is still somebody who hasn't paid their traffic warrant," Herman said. "And when you have vulnerable prisoners, you set up a victim-aggressor situation. So you're creating the seeds of serious injuries and deaths, really, in the jail by double-bunking."
There are 384 cells in the new facility. In May, 1987, the county asked that it be allowed to double-bunk 200 of the cells.
Lt. Rivas and Charles Niederman of the county General Services Agency said they did not know how many of the 384 cells will be double-bunked.
The county has had a jail overcrowding problem for more than 10 years and is operating its main jail under a population cap ordered by a federal judge. The state Board of Corrections set an inmate limit of about 3,100 on the county's jail system. The jails are now operating with more than 4,000 prisoners per day.
Decision to Occupy Bunks
Supervisor Don R. Roth said he is not concerned about the installation of the second bunks, but the decision to occupy them will be taken seriously. "It's up to (Sheriff) Brad Gates and the supervisors to see whether it's necessary to utilize them," he said.
Supervisor Thomas F. Riley noted that people in the U.S. armed forces sleep in bunk groupings more crowded than in county jails, "so I have great difficulty having any compassion."
He said, however, that he would review the decision to occupy the beds.
Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder also said double-bunking "is a concern of the judge's, not mine. How many do they bunk together in the military? We've got to do the best to keep people who break the law off of the streets."