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Sheriff Gates' Views on Jail 'Safety Cells'

October 30, 1988

I read with great interest your editorial "Rubber Rooms Have No Place in Jail System."

Your article compared the Orange County Jail to some "archaic Devil's Island penal colony." This is not only unfair, but the statement distorts the truth. The truth of the matter is these "safety cells" were constructed in accordance with the state of California building codes and have been utilized here in Orange County and throughout the state for 20 years. Forty-three of 58 California sheriff departments utilize identical or similar "safety cells." Of the remaining 15 counties, eight are small county jails housing fewer than 60 inmates, four use regular cells in conjunction with some type of restraint device, and three do not use "safety cells." You reported that Riverside County does not have "safety cells." The jail facility in Riverside indicates they will include this type of cell in future jail construction.

In Orange County, we process approximately 76,000 prisoners annually. There are more than 4,000 people confined within the jail system every day of the year. Many of these people are incarcerated for chemical addiction, violent behavior and a myriad of other serious problems. Their inability to exercise self-control in the community is not diminished, but rather continues in jail. I agree that the mentally impaired should receive hospital care. The fact that they are often charged with serious crimes, however, such as rape, murder, robbery, and other antisocial acts of violence significantly restrict the number of available treatment centers. The statutes are very clear about our responsibility to receive and maintain custody of persons who have violated the law. Transfers to mental health care facilities may only be accomplished by order of the court.

The use of "safety cells" is controlled by the Health Care Agency. They are used for medical purposes and only house violent inmates who are combative or self-destructive, allowing them to "act out" until they can be treated in a more traditional mode. "Safety cells" are never used as a form of punishment, and no inmate is housed in them without medical approval.

The use of "safety cells" by the mental health professionals working in a jail environment is a very important option to ensure the safety of the inmates and my staff.

You stated that Mr. Herman, a volunteer attorney for the ACLU, called the cells unspeakably vile. This is directly contrary to numerous inspections conducted by the Honorable William P. Gray, U.S. District Court judge; a court-appointed special master, Mr. L.G. (Bud) Grossman; the state Board of Corrections; the state Juvenile Justice Commission; Correctional Consultants of California and every grand jury since the jail was constructed. All of these people found the cells to be clean, well cared for, humane and being properly used.

BRAD GATES

Sheriff-Coroner

County of Orange

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