On May 5, 2020, the OC Board of Supervisors quietly rushed through approval of a $261 million contract to reopen and expand the empty James A. Musick facility in Irvine. In the midst of a global pandemic and economic crisis, the BoS left little room for public debate or education despite a long history of opposition against the jail.
The City of Irvine has fought Musick’s construction for over two decades, filing multiple lawsuits against the BoS and Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD). In 2008, the Council unanimously voted against the expansion, but OCSD continued to push an agenda of incarceration. In 2013, Irvine Councilmember Larry Agran claimed the county was only interested in a money-making scheme. He alleged, “They are willing to import [incarcerated people] from outside Orange County – from other counties – of course take them from the state, and also take them from federal authorities who are handling potential deportees. All of that will be part of a rent-a-jail, rent-a-cell system that is intended to generate tens of millions of dollars to the county.”
Construction of the Musick facility will cost more than $288 million, with $128 million coming directly from Orange County’s local discretionary funds – on top of that, annual operating costs are currently estimated at $61.5 million per year, yet many Irvine residents are unaware that the jail even exists.
Stop the Musick Coalition has been working to inform residents about the dangers of jail expansion since its formation in 2020. A group of individuals and organizations committed to decarceration in Orange County, they urged Irvine council members to pass a city resolution opposing the expansion agreement and to invest in community-based care instead of more incarceration. On May 4, 2021, Irvine Vice Mayor Tammy Kim penned a resolution asking the BoS to hold a public meeting so community members could have a full and fair opportunity to address their concerns about the facility. The resolution was passed unanimously, but the BoS has yet to follow through with the Irvine Council’s request.
Over the last decade, Orange County voters have sent a clear and consistent message in support of criminal justice reform. In 2012, 65 percent of Orange County voting residents voted to reform California’s “Three Strikes” Law; in 2014, 53 percent of voters supported reducing some crimes from felonies to misdemeanors; in 2016, 58 percent voted to increase parole chances for some individuals in prisons, and 52 percent voted to legalize the adult use of marijuana. Community members deserve transparency from public agencies, and they should have a direct line of communication with the BoS to express their concerns.
The Musick jail has sat empty for two years. Orange County’s current jail population is at a historic low, around 3,200, yet the Musick reopening and expansion would needlessly bring OC’s total rated capacity to about 6,200 jail beds – construction of the jail is a nonsensical use of taxpayer money, one that would cause long-lasting harm to community members and families. Money for the facility should be spent on resources that center care and divert people from crisis, such as housing, healthcare, and jobs.
To ensure that community members have a full understanding of the Musick expansion, Stop the Musick Coalition will be hosting a virtual public forum in Irvine. Panelists will include Yehuda Pryce, a social worker at the Young Adult Court in Orange County; Kathleen Ripley, a member of People’s Budget OC; Ed Kaufman, a clinical psychiatrist and expert on mental health and incarceration; and Irvine Councilmember Larry Agran.
The panel will discuss the impact of incarceration on youth and alternative interventions; the necessity of a people’s budget that prioritizes the health, well-being, and freedom of community members instead of “public protection;” the impact of incarceration on mental health and how investment in the carceral state will not solve social problems; and Irvine’s decades-long fight against the Musick expansion.
The forum is open to the public and will take place via Zoom on Wednesday, October 20th from 6 – 8 p.m. Register at bit.ly/PublicForum-IrvineJailExpansion. People have a right to be informed about what is happening in their community.
Mai Tran is a member of Stop the Musick Coalition.
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