In Part 1 of this series we looked at the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City of Lake Forest and the Orange County Sheriff, and specifically we examined the resulting dramatic increase in the size of the Musick Jail population, the ease with which the population can be increased even more, and the fact that there are no proposed measures to enhance security and prevent jail breaks. Now we turn to the most important issue – the risk factor and the severity of the criminals who are going to be placed at Musick on the basis of this MOU.
4. Security Level
Despite what we’re being told, the MOU allows the most serious criminals to be placed at Musick.
The MOU allows the Sheriff to place the highest risk criminals at Musick “during unusual circumstances” that include such undefined events as “civil unrest”, “jail facility failures”, “natural disaster”, etc. For example, what constitutes “civil unrest” and who defines it? The term doesn’t even appear in the Webster dictionary and you won’t find any satisfactory results when you search for the words on Google. Here’s a definition used by the travel industry - “A loose term to describe anti-government activities as varied as organized protests, rioting, general strikes, arson and looting, and armed insurrection.” Does this mean that the Sheriff has the authority to place maximum security prisoners at Musick when there is a strike? Or a protest? According to the MOU, the answers is “yes!”
Once placed at Musick, the MOU requires these high risk criminals be relocated “to a different jail not more than one week following the determination,” but there is no specification as to how long they will be housed prior to being determined (“booked or arraigned”). IOW – an indeterminate stay!
In addition, the Sheriff crosses her heart and promises to “avoid housing any Protective Custody inmates at Musick,” but doesn’t agree not to house them there, and in fact, specifically states that “Should the need arise to house these types of inmates; (sic) the Sheriff is required to notify the City Manager in advance, or as soon as possible thereafter.” Notice that nothing defines the “need arise” - this is entirely left to the Sheriff’s discretion. IOW – the Sheriff will do any damn thing she pleases and eventually she’ll let us know. We, on the other hand, have no recourse!
In their rationalization to sign the MOU, City staff claim the MOU will “prevent OCSD from housing maximum-security prisoners at the Facility” but anyone can see now that this claim is patently false. Nothing prevents the Sheriff from housing maximum security prisoners and, in fact, the MOU specifically authorizes her to do so!
(This raises the question of why City staff mis-represent the facts, but that’s a topic for another session)
City staff also claim that the dormitory style housing “enhances OCSD’s commitment not to house Level 3 and Level 4 inmates within the existing and proposed expansion facilities because maximum-security inmates require traditional single cells with one or two beds, or even cells for solitary confinement.” Yet this same “dormitory style housing” proposed by the Sheriff contains “a limited number of single bed cells and multiple bed cells for protective custody, administrative segregation, or similar purposes.”
In fact, the formula used in the MOU calls for 6.25 percent of the beds to be suited for these purposes. Do the math: 6.25 percent of 512 beds equals 32 beds. IOW, despite the claims by the Sheriff and by the City, the MOU memorializes the Sheriff’s capability (intention) to house at least 32 of the worst kinds of criminals at Musick within the near future. Extend this same formula to the eventual build-out to 3,100 inmates and the number of extreme criminals to be housed at Musick is nearly 200!
In fact, the terms of the MOU appear to violate the conditions of the $100,000,000 State grant from AB 900 Phase II construction funding. The minutes of the Board of Supervisors (12/6/2011) specifically states that “The design for this project includes 512 beds for Level 1 (minimum security) and Level 2 (medium security) inmates, but not for maximum security inmates," yet the terms of the MOU specifically allow maximum security inmates.
Beyond this, the MOU allows the Sheriff the right to continue her “beds for feds” program, started in 2011. This program houses illegal aliens who are convicted felons, many of whom are awaiting transfer back to their home countries where they are wanted for major crimes. So while technically these inmates are not wanted in this country for major crimes, they may in fact be dangerous felons awaiting transfer. When originally conceived, the Sheriff projected a relatively short stay for these felons, but as things have worked out, the average stay appears to be more than three months, heightening the dangers to the community.
I’ve saved the worst for last. The MOU (Section 3, b, ii) says:
“If the Sheriff determines there is a need to change any aspect of the inmate classification policies for housing at the Musick facility as described above, the Sheriff shall solicit input from the office of the City Manager of Lake Forest.”
Read this one again. It gives the Sheriff absolute power to change anything she has previously agreed to with regard to housing high risk inmates, without any recourse for the City. All she is required to do is “solicit input.”
By signing this MOU the City agreed not to sue the County and to let the Sheriff proceed with her ambitious plans to turn the once bucolic “farm” into a major jail compound. What did the City get in return for rolling over? Here are the three points the City stresses in defending their action.
1. The Sheriff agreed not to increase the population to 7,584 but only to 3,100.
Of course, even in a worse case scenario, even the most ardent supporters of the Sheriff do not see the likelihood of a need for a 7,584 jail compound on the grounds of Musick. Moreover, with the current economy, there are no funds available to increase Musick to 3,100 much less 7,584. The Sheriff has done all she can do to get the money for 512 additional beds. Hence, the agreement by the Sheriff not to increase the number of inmates from 3,100 to 7,584 is meaningless.
2. The Sheriff agreed to put Level 1 and 2 prisoners at Musick on a regular basis and only occasionally put the most serious criminals (Levels 3 and 4) there.
I suppose this is a minor victory of sorts. Of course, the ability to place Level 3 and 4 prisoners on a regular basis at Musick would increase the cost structure considerably, so this works for both the City and the Sheriff. But the MOU allows the Sheriff too much leeway in assigning the most extreme prisoners to Musick, and memorializes the Sheriff's ability to place 32 at any time using the loose definition which is now a part of the MOU. This is a major problem.
3. Public access to Musick is restricted to Irvine.
Public access to Musick has always been through Irvine, so the Sheriff is giving us nothing more than we already have.
According to City staff, “The outcome achieved by the MOU is consistent with the City’s primary objectives to limit the total inmate population and prevent OCSD from housing inmates with classifications beyond Level 2 (medium security) on a permanent basis.”
None of this is true. The City gained virtually nothing by signing an MOU and agreeing not to sue the Sheriff. The number of inmates at Musick is going to triple at the very least, their severity is going to increase from minimum to medium, we now agree to allow the Sheriff to place the most dangerous criminals possible (maximum security) at Musick, and the best escape route remains right through Lake Forest. The Sheriff has agreed to no new measures to protect the City. Moreover there is nothing in the MOU which prevents the Sheriff from using at least 32 of the 512 beds to house maximum security prisoners "on a permanent basis."
The MOU is a disaster for the City and should never have been signed.