Santa Ana Council to Talk About Getting Out of the Jail Business

Santa Ana Police Department headquarters, which includes the city's jail. (Photo by: Adam Elmahrek)

The Santa Ana City Council Tuesday night is scheduled to consider hiring a consultant to study alternative uses for the city jail, a major step toward canceling a highly controversial deal in which the city rents jail beds to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for immigration detainees.

Santa Ana’s ICE contract has been a source of outrage for Latino activists who consider it unconscionable for a heavily Latino city to be doing business with a government agency that they say breaks up families and routinely jails city residents.

But city leaders have always maintained that they have to rent beds to ICE because the jail has operated at a substantial deficit – with some years dipping millions of dollars into the red – which must be offset so it’s not a major drain on the city budget.

Voice of OC also looked at the jail’s finances and found that, although it’s financially viable, shutting the jail down would be more expensive than keeping it open in the short-run.

The city jail also has space dedicated to holding undocumented immigrants who are LGBT. The arrangement is supposed to be more humane and protect these people from the general population. But activists say transgender women often face abuses – such as strip searches from male officers.

Council members in February shot down a proposal to expand the ICE contract and hold more LGBT inmates after activists flooded the council chambers. At the time, council members asked city staff to come up with proposals to operate the city jail without the ICE contract, and if that wasn’t possible, to “terminate” jail services altogether.

But such a move remains politically thorny. Dozens of jail employees are members of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, and cutting their jobs will no doubt anger the police union.

Among the actions council is considering are issuing a request for qualifications to hire a consultant to conduct a jail “re-use study,” and authorizing the city manager to negotiate with the police union possible retirement incentives for full-time jail employees.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek

  • SantaAnaIsBroke

    Meanwhile the City just agreed to give $10 million to AMCAl for the First Street apartments (cash and vouchers) for just 69 low income units. That is obscene given the homeless situation downtown and the City’s lack of efforts to solve that issue. Last year AMCAL was asking for $5 million which was opposed by staff. Looks like not only did Sarmiento get his way, but he doubled the amount of subsidy for the developer! Meanwhile, Heritage LLC which is paying the fees for this affordable development’s financing, is putting 1200 households only 500-600 ft from airplanes landing at John Wayne. Hey apartment dwellers, good luck with the noise and air pollution! And City, when Heritage cannot rent out those units when the economy crashes and/or people do not want to live so close to aircraft landing, you will have another slum on your hands. Ha! Ha! Ha! This City is led by so many incompetent people…

  • Paul Lucas

    This albatross has been costing the city millions of dollars a year and not keeping pace with the actual costs. It should be shut down its dead weight.