The proposed expansion of the Theo Lacy Branch Jail in Orange should not have any serious adverse effects on the surrounding community, and it might even be beneficial to commercial development and public safety, according to a report released by county officials Thursday.
Based on studies of crime rates in neighborhoods surrounding other jails throughout the country, the county's draft environmental impact report contradicted assertions of residents and police in Orange, who said there would be an increase in crime connected to the jail expansion.
"No study showed direct evidence that a prison or jail produces an increase in local crime," the report stated. In fact, "some studies have shown a decrease in crime surrounding a jail."
The report added that "if any impact to the surrounding developments were to occur due to the proposed expansion, it is anticipated that the impact would be considered beneficial."
"If they can prove that statement to the satisfaction of the residents of Orange, I'd like to see them prove the Fourth of July is Christmas," jail opponent Bob Bennyhoff said in an interview Thursday.
"We know we have more crime in the City shopping center parking areas than we do, for example, in the Orange Mall, a shopping center of comparable size. The EIR totally ignores this and has never explained it," Bennyhoff said.
In an attempt to blend with its commercial surroundings on the City Drive--which includes the City shopping mall across the street--the proposed jail will have a facade that will make it appear to be a modern office building, according to present plans.
'That's Just Hogwash'
The exterior will appear to have conventional windows, which will be simulations. The actual windows, which are narrow slits, will appear to be "decorative recesses." The chain-link fence topped with razor-wire will be hidden by trees and shrubs.
"They say by building a fancy facade on the outside, no one will know there's a jail on the inside. That's just hogwash," Bennyhoff said.
The report, prepared by P&D Technologies for about $65,000, was intended to evaluate the county's plan to expand the jail from 622 prisoners to about 1,326. But the report also includes a "worst-case scenario" in which overcrowded jail conditions force a maximum number of inmates--1,968--into the Theo Lacy facility.
Even then, the report does not foresee adverse effects on traffic, commercial development or public safety.
The report is scheduled for a public hearing before the County Planning Commission in December and is expected to go before the County Board of Supervisors in January.
This is the second environmental impact report on the Theo Lacy expansion. It was ordered last December when the board voted to limit the number of prisoners allowed at the facility to 1,326 and prohibit the housing of any maximum-security inmates.
Court Case Pending
Both steps were intended to resolve concerns expressed by city officials in Orange, but the City Council still voted, 4 to 1, to challenge the expansion. Its court case is pending.
In Tuesday's election, Councilman Don Smith, the one dissenting vote in the lawsuit decision, was elected to succeed Jess F. Perez as mayor. Smith said Thursday that he expects the council to review its lawsuit against the county soon.
He would not comment on whether the city would consider withdrawing its suit or on the new environmental impact report's findings.
The Theo Lacy facility is one of three jail projects the county is planning to resolve jail overcrowding. The expansion, which could be the first project completed, is expected to cost about $45 million and open in 1991.
Among the findings in the report:
- The expanded jail would generate about an average of 1,011 to 1,286 daily vehicle trips on surrounding roads. But because much of the travel will not be at peak travel hours, the facility will not have an adverse effect on traffic. At worst, the jail's traffic would increase by about 20%.
- In 1985, the Theo Lacy jail significantly tightened its security and reduced the number of escapes from 15 in 1984 to about four this year. Escapes should be reduced even more by substantial new security measures planned for the expanded jail, such as electronic monitoring cameras, sensors and additional security walls.