Last week Mayor Kathryn McCullough was quoted in The OC Register as saying that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City and the Sheriff achieved the goals of "preventing maximum-security inmates from being housed at Musick and restricting its growth." Nothing could be farther from the truth.
On November 20, 2012, the Lake Forest City Council voted unanimously to sign a MOU with the Orange County Sheriff that allows the population of Musick Jail to expand more than three fold, allows the Sheriff to place the most extreme criminals on site, and allows for further expansion at some future date to be determined by the Sheriff. Before we look at the details, here’s a review of some past articles about Musick –
Musick Madness Part 1 tells some of the background and how a small minimum security farm is being transformed into a large prison compound with thousands of new serious convicts.
Part 2 talks about how the City of Irvine is trying to fight this transformation of Musick, but Lake Forest rolled over and left us in the lurch.
With this under our belt, let’s look at the details of the MOU. We’re going to look at size, future expansion, access to Lake Forest, and (most importantly) the severity and risk profile of the inmates.
The MOU proposes to more than triple the number of inmates.
The MOU increases the population from less than 1,000 (rated capacity) to 3,100 and allows this number to be increased to as many as 7,584. How does the Mayor or the City staff see this as a victory?
For the numbers to be increased from 3,100 to 7,584 all the Sheriff has to do is say that she needs to do it and put it in writing. Alternatively, the State and/or the Federal government can “mandate” the Sheriff to do it. Once the Sheriff says she has to do it, the City has 30 days to respond to her report. Note that there are no quantifiable criteria on which to base the Sheriff’s desire to expand, and nothing for the City to do except to respond to the Sheriff’s notice.
The MOU says that “If the study adequately demonstrates project need…” but there is no agency specified who makes this determination, nor any criteria for what constitutes an “adequate” demonstration.
The Sheriff recently increased the size of Musick dramatically because she saw it as an opportunity to trade “beds for feds.” What new money making proposition will she find attractive to use as the excuse to increase the size again?
The only positive addition is that the Sheriff agrees to submit her request for expansion beyond 3,100 to “review under CEQA and preparation of such further environmental documentation as may be required, and an approved project budget by the Board of Supervisors.” However heartening this may appear, the Sheriff and the Board of Supervisors managed to skirt around the CEQA in their latest endeavor to make Musick a major jail compound, so it’s likely that this same type of legal circumvention will apply to any future requirements. Those of you familiar with the trickery of lawyers will recognize the phrase “as may be required” which pretty much lets anyone off the hook, especially when there is no identification of who is requiring what.
2. Future Expansion
As already noted, all the Sheriff has to do to increase the number of inmates from 3,100 to 7,584 is to say she needs to do it, and then show figures which back up her assertion. But there is another part of the MOU, called LF-6, which allows her to “convey (by sale, lease, assignment or otherwise) any portion of the James A. Musick property for the purpose of increasing the number of jail beds to house prisoners/inmates/detainees… by the State of California and/or federal government.” This is a virtual carte blanche not merely to expand, but to allow the jurisdiction of Musick to pass from the County to either the State or the federal government.
3. Access through Lake Forest
The MOU (LF-4) allows entrance and exit to Musick through Bake Parkway.
Public access to Musick will be through Irvine, but access to Musick through Bake (ie., Lake Forest) Parkway will still be available.
These conditions are exactly what exist now, so the MOU gave us nothing new. But what disturbs me is the fact that despite the discussions about access, nothing is said about enhancing the security to prevent escapes. We know from our previous analysis that inmate escapes from Musick Jail are not uncommon. With a tripling of the population, this can only spell disaster for the City unless major steps are taken to modify the Jail to reduce the chances of more prisoners escaping.
Bottom line: The MOU signed by the City does not restrict the growth of Musick. In fact it guarantees that the size will more than triple and memorializes the County’s authority to continue to grow the number of inmates to nearly 8,000 with few, if any impediments.
In Part 2 we will examine the impact of the MOU on the nature of the criminals who will be housed at Musick. Warning – you will be disturbed!
I encourage everyone to examine the MOU for yourself. Click here for the link.