The Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a plan to add 512 beds to the James A. Musick Jail near Lake Forest and Irvine.
With $100 million in financing from the state, Orange County sheriff's officials hope to finish the jail expansion by 2018, ahead of a 2019 deadline for the project.
The expansion plan has drawn criticism and lawsuits from the two nearest cities, though the Lake Forest City Council recently approved it.
At Tuesday's meeting of the Board of Supervisors, Irvine Councilwoman Beth Krom said Irvine officials continue to object to the project.
The Musick branch jail, which currently has 1,322 beds, is housing 1,201
inmates as of today, Orange County sheriff's Cmdr. Steve Kea said.
State laws to ease prison overcrowding, which has led to some inmates
being housed in county jails, is making it necessary to expand Musick, Sheriff
Sandra Hutchens said. The $100 million in financing is part of the state's plan
to reduce overcrowding with rehabilitation programs, Hutchens said.
The Musick expansion will feature dormitory-style housing, along with
classrooms and work stations, for minimum- and medium-level security inmates --part of the county's plan for more rehabilitation programs to cut down on
repeat offenders, Kea told City News Service.
Hutchens told the supervisors that officials searched throughout the
county for alternative sites but ultimately concluded that expanding the
Musick jail was the best solution.
Robert Beaver, director of research and development for the Sheriff's Department, said the county analyzed 60 locations for the jail expansion "and
none were viable.''
Hutchens said she understood the concerns of Musick's neighbors.
"I, like each of you, is sensitive to the concerns of jail expansion to
communities near our jails,'' Hutchens told the supervisors. "We have spent
many years discussing jail expansion with the residents of Irvine and Lake
Forest ... I do hope we will be able to reach agreement with Irvine sometime in
Krom acknowledged that Irvine officials "have worked very well with the
county'' but that the two sides differ on the jail expansion.
Krom indicated that one of the primary reasons county officials were
pursuing the expansion was to provide beds for Immigration and Customs
Enforcement, which has contracted with the county to provide space for inmates
suspected of being in the country illegally.
"We can appreciate the county's interest in generating revenue,'' Krom
said, but the expansion "puts the burden on [the jail's] neighbors, including
Hutchens denied that the ICE contract had anything to do with the Musick
"That couldn't be further from the truth,'' Hutchens said outside the
board meeting room. "We are planning for the future needs of our jail
As of today, there are 945 inmates doing time in Orange County jails
because of the state prison overcrowding law, Kea said. The county has 6,480
people in its jails, and the capacity is about 7,000, he said.
Lake Forest Mayor Kathryn McCullough and Councilman Peter Herzog praised
the expansion plan.
"We are the closest residential community to this facility -- far closer than Irvine,'' Herzog told the supervisors. "When this came to this council this year there wasn't one statement of opposition. None. ... This is a very historic day, a very positive day.''
Herzog noted he was involved in the litigation attempting to stop the expansion that dates back to 1996. The cities won on the trial court level, but appellate court justices later sided with the county.
One resident told supervisors he objected to the expansion because
there's a clause in the deal that allows for the housing of maximum-security
Hutchens told the supervisors that Musick will have space for 64 maximum-
security inmates, but those beds will mainly be reserved for emergencies.
"For example, if we had an earthquake and our main facility in Santa
Ana and portions were rendered uninhabitable,'' then some maximum-security
inmates would be moved to the Musick jail, she said.
The Musick facility is for Level One and Two inmates. More than 80
percent of the Level One inmates are in jail for drug and alcohol offenses and
probation violations, Kea and the sheriff said. The Level Two inmates are
usually in jail for property crimes, major theft and domestic violence, they
The dormitory-style housing will eliminate blind spots, such as the one
where inmates fatally beat a fellow prisoner in the Theo Lacy branch jail in
Orange in October 2006, Kea said.
It also eliminates the glass barrier between inmates and staff and
allows for more interaction, according to Kea, who said the inmates will attend
classes four days a week and counseling sessions once a week.
Sheriff's officials also want to consider incentives for cooperative
inmates to get out early on electronic monitoring or to finish their term in a
halfway house, Kea said.
--City News Service