The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved plans to pursue $80 million from the state for the second phase of an expansion of the James A. Musick Jail, despite opposition from the city of Irvine.
In December, the board approved the first phase of the expansion that would add 512 beds to the jail with $100 million in financing from the state. Officials have begun designing the 512-bed expansion, said Robert Beaver, the sheriff's department's director of research and development.
County officials will learn in January if their request for funding from the state for the 384-bed expansion on which the board signed off Tuesday was approved, Beaver said.
That phase of the expansion calls for fewer beds because 3,000 square feet will be set aside for substance abuse treatment and other programs intended to help inmates become healthier and prepare for their lives outside the jail's walls, Beaver said.
"Our goal is to reduce recidivism," Beaver said.
State officials put the recidivism rate at 70 percent, and with pressure on the state to reduce prison overcrowding, there's more emphasis on rehabilitation, Beaver said.
"It's a completely different detention paradigm, where you've got a whole host of activities and services that link to post-custody activities," Beaver said.
Probation Department workers will regularly meet with inmates to counsel them on how they can get back on track after they are released, Beaver said.
"They'll be setting up the safety net before they ever get out of jail," he said.
Irvine sued to stop the county's expansion plans, but a judge sided with the county in November. That lawsuit is being appealed, with appellate justices scheduled to hear oral arguments Oct. 22.
After the December decision by the supervisors, Irvine filed suit again, challenging a different part of the plan.
Irvine City Councilman Larry Agran said he supports an expansion of the jail, but not to the extent the county has approved. In December, the board approved plans that could give it the authority to expand the jail to 7,584 beds, more than five times its current capacity of about 1,300 beds.
"The county has begun to pursue what I call a mega-jail plan, which is to take the James A. Musick honor farm and completely transform its character and build it to a medium- and even maximum-security capacity of 7,584 inmates," Agran told City News Service.
Agran objects to the county renting beds to federal officials to house immigration detainees, a source of income Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has said helped her department cope with significant cutbacks.
"I have no problem with expanding the Musick honor farm, which houses about 1,000, to 2,000, as long as it maintains its character," Agran said.
"But now it's becoming a hardened prison as opposed to a jail or honor farm. So I appreciate what the sheriff is trying to do and I understand, but make no mistake, this is a big moneymaker for the county."
Supervisor Todd Spitzer accused Agran of "fanning the flames for election issues next year."
Spitzer pointed out that he made sure that in Tuesday's approved plan that the 384 beds cannot be used for any other purpose but inmates in rehabilitation programs.
"I specifically limited this entire project to 384 rehab beds, which is all consistent with the agreement with Lake Forest," Spitzer said. "These are low and medium level beds, not high-risk beds."
Spitzer said there's no way the county plans to expand the jail to 7,584 beds.
"There's no intent or effort in any way whatsoever to get to 7,500," Spitzer said. "(Agran) is throwing the kitchen sink at this."
— City News Service.