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June 27, 2017

Two-year study details pattern of neglect by sheriff and county officials

SANTA ANA — A two-year investigation by the ACLU of Southern California Jails Project published today reveals violent, abusive and unhealthy conditions in Orange County's jails system, and a record of denial and indifference by the officials in charge, most notably Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens.

The full 108-page investigative report is the result of more than 120 interviews with present and former individuals incarcerated in the OC jails and an extensive review of the recommendations of seven grand juries over the last decade during Hutchens's tenure.

The report describes an environment of violence, abuse, inadequate medical care, persistent overcrowding, unsanitary living conditions and poor training and supervision for custody staff, among other violations of state regulations and the U.S. Constitution. The investigation found that on average more than half the inmates in the OC jails are simply awaiting trial and have not been convicted of any crime — many because they cannot afford bail.

"The OC Sheriff’s Department and its jails have been fraught with controversy, allegations of corruption and abuse. This isn’t a recent find," said Esther Lim, director of the ACLU SoCal Jails Project. "It is clear and obvious that the department and the jails need proper oversight."

The ACLU SoCal is calling on Sheriff Hutchens to resign and demanding that the Orange County Board of Supervisors establish an independent jails review authority to investigate the culture of violence and abuse in the OC jails and reform policies throughout the county jail system.

The report notes that despite years of complaints of violence and squalid conditions in the OC jail system, the sheriff and board of supervisors have “turned a blind eye to this abuse and misconduct,” and no deputy has ever been formally charged in an incident of prisoner abuse. To the contrary, the report notes, in 2016, the board awarded deputies a new three-year contract that included an 8.8% pay raise at a cost to taxpayers of some $62 million. The investigation found "the need for oversight that is neutral and objective is profound."

"The department needs to start a comprehensive review and inspection of all five OCSD jail facilities," the report says. "An objective oversight monitor with substantive power can help release the sheriff's department and the county from legal liability and ensure that good governance trumps political expediency in Orange County."

Learn more

Orange County Jails (June 2017) Full Report:

Orange County Jails (June 2017) Executive Summary:

ACLU SoCal advocacy letter: