Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens on Friday detailed a series of “jail hardening” measures put in place after the escape of three inmates in January.
Speaking to several members of the media at the OCSD headquarters in Santa Ana, Hutchens outlined reinforcements to jail infrastructure, plus tighter protocols on inmate tracking and inventory procedures.
On Jan. 22, inmates Bac Duong, Jonathon Tieu and Hossein escaped from the Central Men’s Jail by cutting through steel bars and plumbing tunnels, and then rappelling down the side of the building from the roof.
Duong turned himself in on Jan. 29, and Tieu and Hossein were captured in San Francisco Jan. 30.
All three remain incarcerated in Orange County Jail facilities.
“This escape has changed our department in many ways, and we have chosen to take the opportunity to improve and make all our jails safer and more secure,” Hutchens said.
All points of exit used by the escapees were immediately repaired and reinforced, the sheriff said.
High-density LED lighting has been added to the roof and exterior walls of the jail. More lighting also was installed inside the jail, including high-density lighting in all plumbing tunnels.
An extra layer of bars was put in at roof openings, metal grills on plumber tunnels, wall vents and security grates inside tunnels.
High-definition video cameras also have been installed in several locations inside the jail, and motion-sensor cameras have been mounted inside the plumbing tunnels.
The cameras emit a sound at the guard station if motion is detected inside the tunnel.
A K9 capable of sniffing out drugs and cell phones has been assigned exclusively to custody operations. K9 Mercy already recovered some drugs in her four months on duty.
Inmates are now wearing wristbands and badges equipped with radio frequency technology, giving OCSD personnel the ability to track their movements.
“This is vital at a facility like the men’s central jail, with its outdated design that requires much more inmate movement for meals and services,” Hutchens said.
The technology will be expanded to the other OC jails, she added.
The OCSD also is exploring the possibility of using metal detection equipment and motion sensors inside the jails.
Once the inmates were back in custody, a jail hardening team was formed and meets regularly to discuss the upgrades, which have cost $570,000.
Upgrades planned for the future are estimated to cost an additional $3 million, the sheriff said.
Orange County First-District Supervisor Andrew Do, who was present at the briefing, said the topic of a new jail should be examined.
Modern jails are more adequately designed to monitor the movements of inmates, Do said.
“The board, with its commitment to public safety, has pledged its full support to look at this issue very carefully and try to find funding sources to pursue the possibility of a new jail,” he said.
The criminal investigation, headed by OCSD’s Lt. Dave Sawyer, is ongoing.
Investigators are still trying to determine the type of tool that was used to cut through bars and how the inmates were able to get cell phones, Sawyer said.
The escape may have been in the works for about four months, he said.
The lieutenant said there is “not a sliver of evidence” to indicate that any sworn or unsworn employee of the OCSD was involved in any way with the escape.
While the escape was a “terrible circumstance,” said Hutchens, the experience has served to better the department.
“Overall we have taken the information we know and have used it to make our Orange County jail facilities safer and more secure,” Hutchens said. “(The escape) has propelled us to make improvements that have already shown to be beneficial to the safety and security at the Men’s Central Jail, all Orange County jails and the Orange County community.”