SANTA ANA — Candidates for the 3rd District supervisorial seat announced competing proposals Tuesday to solve Orange County's severe jail overcrowding problem without expanding the James A. Musick Branch Jail in Irvine.
Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Orange) said he would like to see a regional jail and state and federal prison complex built in San Bernardino County at George Air Force Base, which was closed by the Defense Department four years ago.
Meanwhile, Conroy's opponent, Deputy Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer, proposed selling the Musick facility to help fund an expansion of the county's Central Jail complex in Santa Ana.
Both candidates said they were opposed to converting the minimum-security Musick facility into a larger, maximum-security jail--a plan that is currently being studied by the Board of Supervisors. The Musick facility happens to be situated in the 5th District, but is next to a residential community in Lake Forest, which is part of the 3rd District.
Expanding the Musick facility has become a controversial issue, particularly among South County residents who fear the consequences of housing high-risk inmates in their community. The issue is also shaping up as one of the hotter topics in this November's race for the 3rd District seat.
Chris Manson, a spokesman for Conroy, said the assemblyman sent a letter to Gov. Pete Wilson in May about his idea of building the jail and prison facility at George Air Force Base. He said Conroy is also seeking support for his plan from members of Orange County's legislative delegation.
Under Conroy's proposal, prisoners and inmates from throughout the Southland, including Orange and Los Angeles counties, would be housed there. Additionally, the facility would be used to detain, and subsequently deport, illegal immigrants, Manson said.
"This correctional complex would ease severe overcrowding in local jails in Orange County and other parts of Southern California," Conroy said in a prepared statement. "At the same time, it will bring jobs to an area that has been hard hit by the closing of George Air Force Base four years ago. It will also help eliminate any need for building a new jail in Orange County."
Because it would be impractical to transport Orange County inmates facing trial from San Bernardino back to the county for court appearances, Conroy said only criminals who have been sentenced to 30 days or more would be sent to the facility.
Sheriff's officials were unable to say late Tuesday how many inmates might be affected by such a proposal. A large segment of the jail population, officials said, is composed of inmates who are awaiting trial and have not been sentenced.
Manson admitted that many details of the proposal still need to be worked out, including a funding source.
Spitzer immediately criticized Conroy's plan as "impractical" and said it was highly suspicious that the assemblyman publicly announced the proposal the day before Spitzer's scheduled official unveiling of his solution to jail overcrowding at a public forum in Lake Forest tonight.
"He's shown no leadership whatsoever on this issue," Spitzer said. "He felt he had to respond because I was taking the lead on the issue."
Spitzer added that Conroy, who once proposed a bill that would allow for the paddling of delinquent youths, "fails miserably when he delves into criminal justice issues."
"He should stay out of trying to make policy on criminal justice because he doesn't understand it. . . . My proposal is efficient and cost-effective."
Spitzer said his plan to expand jail capacity in Santa Ana is the most logical solution because that's the area most convenient to the central courthouse, and because the sale of Musick would help fund a new facility in Santa Ana.
Spitzer said he will expand on his plans at tonight's forum at 6:30 in El Toro High School.