Grand Jury Finds Security Flaws in Orange County Jails 

June 21, 2021 Updated: June 22, 2021

The Orange County Grand Jury (OCGJ) has released a 34-page report highlighting various security flaws in the California county’s jails, including escape risks for inmates and trafficking of contraband.

The Theo Lacy Facility, in the city of Orange, was identified in the report for needing a security wall between the jail facility and a nearby vacant animal shelter.

“The lack of a block wall at this site presents a major security risk,” the report, released June 14, said.

In a statement sent to The Epoch Times, Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) spokeswoman Carrie Braun responded to the findings.

“The fence separating the Theo Lacy Facility from the vacant animal shelter is a double fence (essentially two layers of fencing) with razor wire atop both fences,” Braun said. “The area adjacent to the fence is a restricted area, utilized only by lower-security inmates who are monitored and do not pose a significant escape risk. We are constantly in a state of assessment regarding security and making improvements to provide the most secure facilities possible.”

The grand jury also said that during an October 2020 visit to the Theo Lacy Facility, it observed a potential security risk at the front desk entrance whereby the Plexiglas separating the public from the facility and sheriff’s department personnel was too short.

“The main entrance is a hub for the public to enter the facility. OCSD personnel are behind a desk with a two-foot-tall Plexiglas wall atop the desk that could be easily breached,” the report said, recommending the installation of an eight-foot-tall piece of Plexiglas.

Drug Concerns

The grand jury report also identified two ways that contraband could be easily taken into both the Central Men’s Jail (CMJ) and the Intake and Release Center.

“An OCGJ tour of the CMJ in September 2020 revealed the Attorney Bonds Entrance area had significant security issues,” the report said. “There were no video surveillance cameras in the area, and no separation between attorney and inmate, creating an opportunity for contraband to enter the facility.”

At the Intake and Release Center, a lack of trained OCSD personnel means the building’s scanning device isn’t being used consistently to properly prevent contraband from entering the facility, the grand jury said.

To fix these issues, the jury recommended installing security booths and video surveillance cameras at the CMJ’s Attorney Bonds Entrance and require a full body scan of incoming inmates to enhance the security and reduce contraband.

Aside from security issues, the jury also reportedly found a lack of mandatory COVID-19 testing for jail personnel. It recommended mandatory testing for all jail personnel.

Areas of Praise

Despite the issues outlined in the report, the grand jury said it found that all of the county jails were “acceptable and in overall compliance with state and federal standards.”

The report also commended the OCSD for its full cooperation with the grand jury during every visit, and allowing it access to every requested area.

It also recognized the department for creating the Housing Unit for Military Veterans (HUMV), an area for veterans to receive special services and programs that assist in regaining special skills for an eventual reintegration into the community.

Additionally, the report highlighted the positive work done by the department for establishing the Behavioral Health Bureau to address mental health issues in the jail system, as well as Module K for women inmates with mental health issues.

In a response to the grand jury’s findings and recommendations, Braun said that the construction projects outlined are delayed due to lack of funding, but are in line with Sheriff Don Barnes’s plans.

“The grand jury’s report provides a factual account of the complex work and tremendous dedication of the custody and health care personnel working in the Orange County Jail system,” she said. “We are pleased that the grand jury recognized Sheriff Barnes’s proactive efforts to manage COVID-19.  Additionally the grand jury commended the efforts to meet the behavioral health needs of the inmates in custody.”

Follow Drew on Twitter: @DrewVanVoorhis