Santana: Do Jail Escapes Reveal Funding Gap?

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Following this weekend’s escape of three violent criminals from Orange County’s jail lockup in downtown Santa Ana, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens is already putting county supervisors on notice that the tight budgets of recent years are showing their strain on the region’s jail system.

At a Sunday press conference to address the escapes, Hutchens put the public on notice in stark terms – warning that recent changes in state prison policies are leaving more violent criminals in under-funded county lock ups such as the Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana.

“You need to know that 70 to 80 percent of our inmates in our jails today are felons,” Hutchens said Sunday, adding that her facility houses 384 inmates on serious violent crimes like murder.

With annual county budget talks just around the corner, Huchens is already mounting a strong pitch for jails, noting – much like the dilapidated county animal shelter – Orange County’s has an “older designed facility.”

Hutchens described the county jail as a “linear facility” noting that taxpayers essentially pay a lot to move inmates around all day – instead of bringing services like food and medical services directly to them, which also enhances security.

“This is a jail where a lot of movement occurs,” Hutchens said.

That creates opportunities for criminals, who Hutchens admits, are constantly studying a way to get a leg up…or out.

All this presents downtown Santa Ana residents and business owners with a new challenge.

“The reality is from time to time, we will have escapes,” Hutchens said.

County supervisors will get a chance to offer Hutchens their public thoughts  Tuesday at their next public meeting, where County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett takes over as Chair with Supervisor Michelle Steel as Vice Chair.

Homeless @ Bus Terminal

Bartlett, who is promising a chairmanship based around policy and not politics, also will preside Tuesday over a closed session meeting on another pressing downtown Santa Ana issue: the Orange County Transportation Authority bus terminal that many residents and supervisors want converted into a homeless services center.

While county supervisors agreed to purchase the $3.2 million empty covered facility that resembles a parking garage last month, serving as a quick emergency option to get the hundreds of homeless at the civic center some shelter, they haven’t been able to get early access to facility while their escrow is finalized.

That left a lot of people outside and wet when the El Niño rains (expected to be rough this year) appeared earlier this month.

According to interviews and public records requests, county executives have designated Transportation Authority officials as the lead in negotiating with the Federal Transit Administration in Washington, D.C. to facilitate some sort of temporary usage – a lease – during escrow.

Supervisor Andrew Do – who has been designated as the lead by supervisors on the bus terminal – correctly gave a directive at the last supervisors’ board meeting to step up efforts to get a temporary lease.

I also called out our executive class in my last column, presenting both county and Transportation Authority executives – and their army of taxpayer-funded legislative outreach specialists and lobbyists – with a challenge: I publicly warned about the winter and the need for shelter back in August and we’re now moving into February without anything resembling an emergency ethos on shelter.

I remember corporate bailouts being authorized over a weekend when that was needed. But it seems we can’t get D.C. to move quickly when it involves something simple like offering temporary shelter to hundreds of people?

County supervisors should be asking questions about where our lobbyists – always there to act as tour guides for visiting supervisors in D.C. – are on this issue and whether they are earning their paycheck.

In the meantime, ACLU officials continue to bitterly criticize county supervisors calling their winter response “miserable” and are circulating a petition to get a better response.

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett Takes Over as Chair

It will be interesting to see how Bartlett – who likened the role of county supervisors’ chair to the governor of a state in a recent interview with the Orange County Register – reacts to this leadership challenge.

It does seems like Bartlett is already making moves to make the chairmanship of the county supervisors a much more powerful position – more akin to the speaker of a legislature – by increasing the chair’s ability to craft the weekly public agenda.

Bartlett is proposing Rule 38 – a new addition to the county board rules of procedure – that will codify the chairperson’s ability to pick board and commission appointments instead of the informal straw vote/chair pick that’s been held in recent years.

That issue came into play earlier this month when supervisors considered a pick to the Orange County Employees Retirement System.

Bartlett is also proposing changes to the agenda that will force county supervisors and their million-dollar staffs to get agenda items to the chair two weeks before consideration, as opposed to the weekly approach used now.

Bartlett calls it a transparency measure.

I question whether the opposite will happen.

With more time required for agenda reviews, business items will likely pile up at the chair’s desk.

That means more supplemental agendas, which are only put out at the last minute on Friday’s before the meetings.

That may translate into a more powerful chairmanship but it may not necessarily be a more transparent one.

  • Philmore

    ““You need to know that 70 to 80 percent of our inmates in our jails today are felons,”….. (Well, that explains it, then! See what happens when society softens up on those jaywalkers, traffic violators, and delinquent library borrowers! )….. Um, well, who ELSE should BE a jail inmate ??? Sensationalizing the obvious ?

    • LFOldTimer

      Looking for excuses to divert responsibility: “70% to 80% are felons” – “Prisoners sit around all day with lots of time to plan” – “The jail is old” – “The prisoners start fights to distract us” – “Our budget is too low” – blah blah blah – blah blah blah. What’s Hutchens doing with all that money she’s making off the ‘Beds for Feds’ program to house illegal foreigners? Paying the month to month pensions for her retired buddies?

  • LFOldTimer

    And what is the immigration status of the 3 escapees? Anybody know? A Register article said that there was an immigration hold on one of the Vietnamese men. And the Iranian man fled to Iran after the crime he’s accused of committing. He was able to enter Iran which requires a visa for a non-Iranian citizen traveling from the US. And he was able to fly out of Iran to Prague as a transit point to Spain where he was arrested then extradited back to the USA. Obviously he wasn’t flying with a US passport since a US passport alone wouldn’t have allowed him entry into Iran. So can we have a straightforward conversation on the immigration laws (and enforcement) in the USA or is that too politically incorrect for some to handle? Must we continue to bury our heads in the sand?

  • buzzookaman

    Please don’t let it come out that the guards were on a run to Del Taco for the snitches

    • Paul Lucas

      Ziiing!

    • LFOldTimer

      You raise a good point, buzzookaman. Why didn’t the snitches dime these 3 out prior to their escapes? Or did they and were they ignored? Based on all the articles in the Weekly and the Register that I’ve read on jailgate the Central Jail is saturated with snitches. I thought they were an invaluable fail-safe tool for law enforcement? What happened? Did the snitches form a union and go on strike? Are they demanding membership in OCERS w/all the bells and whistles to include pensions and O/T? I wonder if any of the 3 escapees were paid snitches? It wouldn’t surprise me. But we’ll never find out since all the TRED snitch records are top secret (even judges and defense attorneys are forbidden access) and the deputies are sworn to secrecy. 🙂

    • Jacki Livingston

      I can’t help but think that if the OCSD sheriffs were on the job in the jail, doing what the taxpayers pay them for, instead of strongarming old ladies in their home for speaking out on VoC, to intimidate Spitzer’s vocal critics, maybe three lethal felons would not be free to rape, rob and murder in the public arena. Just a thought…

  • Paul Lucas

    Im kind of lost on the segue from the escapees to the bus terminal and expediency of action by government bodies. But anyway, there is zero possibility that those guys could have escaped without the assistance of deputies that work inside the facility.

    • LFOldTimer

      Bingo! Not a jail design problem. It’s a personnel problem if you use your mind and examine all the facts involved in this escape. A 4th grader could figure that out. And anyone who blames the facility for the escape is not thinking straight. But I think the Supervisors will cover for the Sheriff and give her whatever she asks for. They have to date. Why would they change course now? They’ve covered for her on the jail informant mess that has been covered by the media coast to cost. Now our County faces this national embarrassment of 3 men who are accused of very violent criminal acts. If the Supervisors don’t call Hutchens out on this and end up folding to her diversions and demands I have no doubt that they’re complicit and part of the problem – and not part of the solution. Watch this closely. It will expose some very important information about the governance of your County – and whether it’s legitimate or phony and plastic. Pay attention!
      Oh, and I have no idea why Norberto constructed his article in this manner, Paul. Normally he’s right on point. So I found that confusing too. You are not alone.