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Supervisors Draw Jail Terms In County Jail Dispute With AM-Texas Prisons Bjt

March 17, 1987

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ All five Santa Clara County supervisors were sentenced to jail terms Monday for violating a judge’s order to provide more jail cells for male inmates to ease overcrowding.

But retired Alameda County Superior Court Judge Spurgeon Avakian, the fourth judge to handle a jail inmate’s 6-year-old suit against the county, dropped his threat to fine the county $9.3 million for failing to come up with a plan to provide 96 one-man cells for violent inmates.

Four supervisors, Chairwoman Dianne McKenna, Zoe Lofgren, Suzanne Wilson and Tom Legan, were given 10-day sentences and fined $2,000. Supervisor Rod Diridon was given only five days and fined $1,000 because Avakian said he made an effort to comply with one of his orders.

″We’re going to appeal, absolutely,″ McKenna said. ″We’re going to do everything we can to stay out of jail, but we’re ready to go if it’s required. When the issue is as significant as this, all the members of the board are willing to go to jail.″

Lofgren said the prospect of a jail term would not affect her stand on building new cells. The county has greater need for other projects, such as beds for psychiatric patients and shelters for abused children, she said.

″I’m not afraid of doing my duty,″ Lofgren said. ″I’m not going to cave in and violate my obligations as an elected person to avoid that personal sanction.″

The case began in 1981 when an inmate filed suit charging the county with housing prisoners in facilities so crowded it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Three years later county officials agreed to provide more cells.

County officials said they already have spent $150 million to add 1,400 beds to the jail system, including a new $64 million jail under construction.

Avakian said he felt compelled to enforce the contempt citations to discourage future delays for construction of the cells for violent inmates.

Nearly half California’s 58 counties are under court orders or involved in lawsuits over their jails. About 57,000 prisoners statewide are housed in county jails designed to hold 40,000 inmates, according to the state Board of Corrections.

Avakian gave the supervisors until April 16 to serve the sentences and said he would allow them to stagger their terms in order not to paralyze county government.

However, none of the supervisors will go to jail immediately. Gov. George Duekmejian last week signed a bill giving the supervisors an extra 30 days before they will be required to report to jail.

The supervisors said they will appeal Avakian’s contempt citation and that could delay the jail terms further.