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Musick Madness - Part 1 (From Farm to Maximum Security)

A Maximum Security prison is coming to Lake Forest and no one is trying to stop it.

Previously we talked about crime per se, but there is another threat to public safety in Lake Forest that is even more troubling. In March 2012 the OC Sheriff announced that $100,000,000 had been secured for the expansion of the Musick Jail and the addition of more than 500 beds. Assistant Sheriff Mike James described the new facility as a “maximum security jail”. Only Irvine was vocal in its opposition. The City of Lake Forest was curiously silent.

500+ maximum security beds coming to a jail in Lake Forest?

Let’s take a step back to see what’s going on.

“The Farm”

Musick Jail sits on 100 county acres between the cities of Irvine and Lake Forest. You can see Musick Jail from Bake Parkway at the intersection of Bake and So. Pointe Drive near Trabuco.

For many years Musick was a quiet little facility affectionately referred to as “the farm”. It held less than 1,000 minimum security prisoners serving time for offenses like DUI, minor drug possession, and prostitution.

The Sheriff

In case you didn’t know it, Lake Forest doesn’t have its own police force, as do many larger cities. Instead we contract with the County to use members of the OC Sheriff’s Department (OCSD). They are assigned to us and we have our own Chief, who is also a member of OCSD. In addition to being in charge of the officers, the Sheriff is also in control of the jails.

Beds for Feds

About two years ago the new OC Sheriff announced a “beds for feds” program. She brought to our City illegal aliens who were convicted criminals who served their sentences and were waiting to be deported from the U.S. These criminals were under the authority of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but held by the Sheriff. Although the Sheriff claimed they  would be “no worse” than the felons who were currently at Musick, announcements from ICE said: “ICE is focusing efforts first and foremost on the most dangerous criminal aliens currently charged with, or previously convicted of, the most serious criminal offenses. ICE will give priority to those offenses including, crimes involving national security, homicide, kidnapping, assault, robbery, sex offenses, and narcotics violations carrying sentences of more than one year.” (ICE Secure Communities Fact Sheet)

The first phase of the program called for 366 beds and the second phase calls for 720 beds. According to ICE, the average time to process detainees is approximately every 30 days. That means each bed will be occupied by 12 criminals per year. So 366 beds x 12 criminals per year occupying each bed = 4,392 criminals coming into and out of Musick each year in Phase 1, and 720 x 12 = 8,640 per year in Phase 2.


According to the Sheriff`s Department, the average length of stay for prisoners in the Jail system (they don`t have separate info for Musick) indicates that each bed is occupied approximately twice per year. That means that with less than 1,000 inmates, Musick serves about 2,000 inmates this year. BUT with the new ICE program, that number will rise to 6,000 +. The bottom line - the ICE program will increase the number of inmates at Musick during a year by 3 fold.

Change in Convicts

As if the addition of dangerous illegal alien felons was not enough, in December 2011 the Sheriff announced that a new plan for Musick will change Musick from a minimum to a medium security facility.

(BTW - the Sheriff makes a point of stressing that Musick`s current prisoners are "minimum security" and that the ICE prisoners are also minimum security. What she doesn`t tell you is that minimum security is not a designation that predicts a person`s level of dangerousness to the community, but merely describes whether or not the staff believe the prisoner will be a problem while in jail. IOW, a minimum security prisoner may nonetheless pose a substantial risk to the community if he or she escapes. So while it`s comforting to the staff at Musick to be dealing with minimum security prisoners, there is absolutely no assurance that if one of these prisoners escapes, he/she may not commit violent crimes as soon as they get out!)

A story in the OC Register in September 2012 said -

“Orange County jails are becoming increasingly dangerous as they fill with inmates who are more violent, more seasoned and staying longer….”

“Now, deputies in Musick have found inmates organizing in the minimum-security jail, Garcia said. They are attempting to assert their dominance and tax other inmates. When they are discovered, they are transferred to one of the other jails."

"You now have a more sophisticated type of inmate… Our deputies have had to be more proactive. It's not as laid back as it used to be."


The Max

On top of this, the newest program calls for a 500 bed maximum security prison. So whatever concerns we had about the mis-labeling of “minimum security” can be thrown away now that we are dealing with maximum security felons.

Bottom Line

A few years ago Lake Forest had a small, truly minimum security facility that was affectionately called “the farm” and that housed relatively harmless people who were serving time for minor offenses. This has changed and is in the process of changing again, raising significantly the numbers of criminals, raising significantly their threat level, and raising significantly the classification of the jail. All of this is happening within a few hundred yards of residential housing, and the City is not merely doing nothing about it, they are endorsing it. We'll talk about this in Part 2.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

MisturChips October 26, 2012 at 08:29 PM
I hadn't heard about this, yet, except for a casual mention by one of the council members at one of the recent meetings... Odd. I wonder how much Federal ca$h will flow to Lake Forest to fund 'Law Enforcement'... Hmmm..
Jim Gardner October 26, 2012 at 09:21 PM
Hi Chips, The "beds for feds" program brought in federal funds, but not for Lake Forest. There was a lot about it in 2010 when it was proposed. It brought no new money to Lake Forest, but it did let the Sheriff stop from cutting back her staff since our Jails had fewer and fewer prisoners. Although a good move in principle, it was done at the expense of the safety of Lake Forest and there were better alternatives available (see Part 2 coming out soon). The maximum security jail they now propose will bring no federal funds and is really a response to the conditions in California prisons and a federal mandated release of convicts from state prisons to county jails. The $100,000,000 will come from the State. Again, this will impact our safety and there are better alternatives to solving this problem. Alas, the Sheriff doesn't live in Lake Forest and neither does County Supervisor Pat Bates.
Homer October 26, 2012 at 11:02 PM
Developers and government agencies seem to like to swap land. Why doesn't the county find a way to move Musick away from its current location? What would be wrong with trading open space land from the "not so Great Park" for the Musick property (which would be demolished to create the new open space) ??
Andromeda October 27, 2012 at 04:57 AM
You sure write nice reports on matters concerning Lake Forest, Mr. Gardner. Informative and easy to read. I hope The Patch gives you a permanent voice regardless of whether or not you're elected to the Council. I learn a lot from you. What an absurd place to put a jail. Right in the middle of a residential neighborhood. And now they intend to expand the jail population by a factor of 3? As I recall an inmate actually escaped from Musick a year or two ago. Luckily he didn't harm any innocents in the process. Next time we might not be so lucky. And it appears that the Sheriff has found a new way to make lots of money off illegals with 'Beds for Feds'. No wonder some of her policies encourage their presence here. If more inhabit our county there will be an never ending flow to fill her jails and bring in more revenue. Quite a nice revenue operation.
Jim Gardner October 27, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Thanks for the kind words Andromeda. I really enjoy writing these articles about Lake Forest and I plan to keep writing whether I am elected or not. If elected my blogs will give people a real insight into what's happening in government - the back story behind the headlines. Your connection of the "beds for feds" program with our support of federal laws against marijuana (denying the validity of our own State laws), for which our City spent more than $1,000,000, is very interesting. I never thought about it before. To date, as far as I know, no one in Lake Forest has been harmed by an escaping convict from Musick. OTOH, we are about to have more prisoners and their level of crime is going up significantly, so with more convicts who are more dangerous, I believe our risk factors are going up. In the old days, a person convicted of a DUI or a prostitute who escaped wasn't likely to harm anyone. Now, a drug lord wanted for felony crimes in Ecuador who is awaiting deportation at Musick, if he escapes, may not be so friendly to the locals. And "the locals" are us.
Jim Gardner October 27, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Good question Homer. In 2010 when the "beds for feds" program was being considered I had several conversations with staff from the Supervisors' office and OCSD about alternative uses for Musick. The bottom line is that they are here, and it's a lot easier to expand rather than start anew somewhere else. The fact that our city council rolled over and gave into their demands only encouraged them. I am putting the finishing touches on Part 2 of this series that talks about the alternatives to expanding Musick and I should have it posted by tonight or tomorrow at the latest.
Andromeda October 28, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Any idea why the neighborhood citizens surrounding Musick haven't lodged a protest over the plans for expansion? Besides the safety factor, expanding it 3-fold and bringing in violent felons certainly won't do much for their property values. Who would want to live in a neighborhood with a jail next door, let alone a maximum security jail? I found it interesting that a City Council that was so determined to enforce Federal marijuana statutes (w/ over $1M of our taxdollars) and defy the will of the California voters would not even consider helping to enforce Federal immigration statutes by forcing city contracted businesses to undergo E-Verify checks to ensure their workers who provided city services were not undocumented aliens in violation of US immigration laws and US labor laws. It's interesting how they cherry pick which Federal statutes that they were determined to enforce. Oh, and did you know that there is a work program for illegal aliens in our County jails? Yep. The County apparently hires them for pay to perform tasks around the jail. I was under the impression that hiring undocumented aliens was against the law. There are thousands of unemployed citizens in Orange County who would jump at the chance to take those jobs - but apparently the ones who enforce the laws would rather pay illegal foreigners for their labor. Reality is stranger than fiction sometimes.
Jim Gardner October 28, 2012 at 06:27 PM
I think you said it best - "Reality is stranger than fiction sometimes."
Homer October 28, 2012 at 09:52 PM
The residents around the jail site did protest the original expansion plans (5,000 beds / maximum security). Apparently, the County of Orange is proceeding with their plans and does not agree that a new public notice is necessary despite any revisions of the jail site expansion plans.
Jim Gardner October 28, 2012 at 10:29 PM
Hi Homer, The County's original EIR was based on an expansion of "the farm", IOW basically putting more minimum security people on the grounds to serve out their 6 month sentences. The new plans, for the ICE detainees and now the maximum security prisoners, are a completely different set of criminals. For one thing, the ICE people are rapid turnovers, so that every 100 beds equals 1200 criminals per year, instead of the 200 that the "farm" would accommodate. Moreover both ICE and Max Security are hardened felons, which is a far different prisoner than the "farm" was accustomed to. Finally, the $100,000,000 max securituy prison is different from the old structures at the "farm". It's obvious that these differences require a new EIR, but the County is trying to push this through asap. I'm not lawyer, but I have had expeience with EIRs, and I believe a good case can be made for a new process, which is what the City of Irvine is doing. Our City seriously hurts this case when we do not join with Irvine in the law suit. A judge might think that Irvine is being extreme in their judgment when a neighboring city that is even more at risk does not join the case.
Andromeda October 28, 2012 at 11:37 PM
Another concern is jail riots. There have been at least a couple lockdowns at some of the County jails due to unrest specifically with the ICE detainee population. As a jail population increases and as the inmates become increasingly dangerous - the possibility of riots and escapes would also go up. Look at the other California prisons where riots have broken out. Most house maximum security inmates with larger populations. Rarely are there riots at minimum security institutions. A jail riot would have adverse impacts on the adjacent Lake Forest residential communities. Correct me if I'm wrong, Mr. Gardner. But the last time I heard Musick discussed by the Sheriff's department at a County Meeting - the claim was that there is no intention to house maximum security prisoners at Musick - even with the expansion. However, the design of the expansion seems to be taylor fit for maximum security inmates. So could the plan be to deny the maximum security intentions to allay the fears of the citizens until the expansion is completed and then to start housing the violent felons there? If so, what could be done to stop it at that point? Back in 2010 the Irvine Company gifted 20,000 acres in open space to the County. Why not put a jail there? Expanding a jail surrounded by family residential neighborhoods is just asking for trouble. It's a disaster waiting to happen.
Jim Gardner October 29, 2012 at 03:26 AM
Hi Andromeda, There are 2 things happening at Musick that changes the criminal composition - (1) the ICE ("beds for feds") program launched in 2010 that brings in many more criminals, many of whom are convicted felons in their home country, being held at Musick until they can be deported, and (2) the $100,000,000 maximum security jail going to be built in 2013 that will house maximum security criminals who are being moved out of the State prisons under federal mandate. Both these changes mean more criminals and worse criminals. In 2010 the Sheriff sold her program on the basis of not creating any more danger for us, but it was easy to see through her "story" and the City of Irvine caught on pretty quick. Convicted felons, here in the U.S. illegally, then apprehended, and now waiting to be deported to their home country was hardly the same thing as the prisoners who once inhabited "the farm". And now with the "maximum security" jail being built, all pretenses are off. Parts 2 and 3 of my blog talk about what we can do. I uploaded Part 2 yesterday so it should appear any time now. I am putting the final touches to Part 3 and should upload it tomorrow.
Andromeda October 29, 2012 at 03:51 AM
Oh, one more thing, Mr. Gardner. Since you have been in contact with County officials re: Musick and "Beds for Feds", perhaps you could shed some light on some of the financial issues. It's my understanding that the Feds pay the county a 'per capita' rate for each illegal alien that it houses in the County jail. The Sheriff's department emphasizes the extra revenues that this program brings in. I have heard figures as high as $20M a year. However, none of them ever discuss the expenses. How much does it cost the County to feed, clothe and provide health care for these inmates. How much do the County taxpayers spend on the extra OCSD personnel (pay, benefits, overtime) needed to monitor the detainees under 'Beds for Feds"? Does the 'per capita' rate per inmate paid for by the Feds cover all these added costs? And out of which public fund are all these expenses paid? I'm concerned that we aren't getting the full picture here. They tell us that it costs as much as $50,000 a year in California to cover all the costs for one inmate. Do the Feds finance the equivalent of over $50,000 per inmate in their per capita payments? Have you researched the financial side of this situation?
Homer October 29, 2012 at 06:03 AM
Lands "gifted," from one agency to another, are often a way of saying: the land is unsuitable for our plan and we will offer it as "open space" to offset land which is suitable for building upon. Much of the land around the former base, which was designated as "open space," was left open for a reason - primarily environmental concerns.
Jim Gardner October 29, 2012 at 03:09 PM
Hi Andromeda If you go to me website, GardnerForCouncil.com you will find financial details as well as more background. In 2010 the Sheriff was faced with reducing the size of her force as a result of declining prisoners in our County system. Had she been a business person she would have downsized, but she didn't want to do that, so she accepted the "beds for feds" program which let her keep her force in tact. Had she known then that the State prison system was going to collapse and we were going to inherit State prisoners, the decision might have been different (Of course, it was pretty obvious in 2010 that this was going to happen and the State was already being threatened with the action that the feds ultimately took). As far as I knew in 2010, the "beds for feds" program was penciled out to cover its own costs, including the salaries of the OCSD personnel. What actually happens I'm unaware. My criticism of the situation, then and now, was from the POV of a person living in Lake Forest. There were no steps taken to securitize our city nor to give us any concessions as a result of the extra risks we now incur. Frankly I'm not sure there was anything that could have been offered that would have changed my opinion, but nothing was offered and the Sheriff simply did what she wanted to do and the heck with us. That's when our City Council needed to step in and protect us. The Sheriff was taking care of her own, but nobody was taking care of us.
Andromeda October 29, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Thank you, Mr. Gardner. It's so refreshing to have a Council candidate with the interests and safety of the Lake Forest citizens in mind. I don't believe that any of the other candidates have pointed out these facts about Musick like you have here. In fact, from what I've read most want more police powers in Lake Forest, not less. So I am going to assume that most of them favor the Musick expansion to the detriment of the Lake Forest citizens. I know that you are fighting an uphill battle against the big money that you are running against in the Council race. But if there's one person we need on the Council it's you. You deliver the facts and the transparency that is vital to any sound municipal operation. We sure hope you win.
Andromeda October 30, 2012 at 03:41 PM
I assume that you are aware that the Feds pay much more per inmate than the state pays under AB 109. And if Proposition 30 fails (which is a distinct possibility) the State will really find itself between a rock and a hard place when it comes to financing payments for AB 109. Chances are it will pay even less to the counties for the transferred inmates. Why do you think Hutchens was actively involved in asking the Governor to veto AB 1081 (which would have made it illegal to transfer illegal detainees to the Feds for deportation unless they committed violent felonies) and turned California into an official sanctuary state? He did veto it, btw. Do you think it was because she's a clone of Sheriff Joe Arpaio? Hardly. Hutchen's enforcement policies against illegal immigrants has been lax, at best. This is well known. Especially within the rank 'n file. She was against AB 1081 because it would have severly reduced the illegal detainee population under "Beds for Feds" and cut into her revenue. It's a revenue operation. It's all about the money. It has to be. Those multi-million dollar pensions at age 50-55 have to get paid somehow.
Homer November 20, 2012 at 08:44 PM
http://www.ocregister.com/news/jail-378237-expansion-dostal.html Agreement details •Limit inmate population to 3,100 •Limit type of inmate to Levels 1 and 2 •Set maximum building height at 50 feet •Limit access from Bake Parkway (on future access route) to emergencies •Monitor inmates via cameras, other surveillance measures •House majority of inmates in dormitory-style rooms

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