Site A: IUSD References Studies on Schools Near Jails are Out of Date or Non-Existent

musick jail

As the debate over Site A for Irvine’s fifth high school continues, the Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) has seemingly won another round against Councilmember Larry Agran’s attempt to place a non-binding item on the ballot that would provide a public voice for Site A, located about 5,600 feet away from the Musick Jail which appears to be headed towards dramatic expansion.

Superintendent Terry Walker has written several times to parents and the public about “multiple studies” which show no connection of increased crime in an area where a jail or prison is located in a community as a means of telling parents their kids will be safe.  It’s a blanket statement from someone in authority and meant to reassure.  Until you actually review the studies and realize that the most recent study is from prisons in rural counties in Pennsylvania in 2011 which seemingly has no connection to the situation in Irvine at all, the first study referenced by IUSD to us is from 2004 and doesn’t mention schools near prisons at all, and some of the other studies offered as proof date back to 1985 (yes, I love that Bowling for Soup song too).

In short, the studies meant to reassure parents either don’t apply, don’t address the question, are out of date or don’t exist.

For parents who expect children to work with the latest or newest textbooks and teaching techniques, should they still be using textbooks with lessons taught from 1985? For math perhaps…..

We asked if there was anything more recent.  IUSD’s spokesman Ian Hanigan wrote: “You are correct that this type of study does not surface on an annual basis. However, we have found that the results are strikingly consistent over time, and they certainly contradict the unsourced claim that correctional facilities result in increased crime in their local communities.”

Hanigan’s right on one respect.  There’s almost nothing about increased crime in a community because of a jail. But there’s also nothing that suggests there is less crime in a community because of a jail.

IUSD also sent is a table with data of schools and the physical distance from the school site to the jail, and Santa Ana High School is the closest one in Orange County just 2,200 feet from the county jail.  But in context, the high school was built on that site first and the county jail moved in afterwards and the jail was built on the site for its proximity to the courts nearby. Now, I haven’t researched the other sites yet, but using the Santa Ana High School example, it’s a brilliant case of providing factually accurate information about the location of the school to the jail without the full context of which building was there first.

Also missing from the chart, that crime statistics in the area, the Henninger Park neighborhood near the County Jail and Santa Ana High School, is 36 percent higher than the rest of Santa Ana and the chance of being a victim of crime in this neighborhood is one in 31.  But there is no way to determine is the higher rates of crime can be tied to the high school location, the jail location, or simply the neighborhood itself.  But crime is higher.

Conversely, the crime rate in the neighborhood near Site A is 60 percent higher than the rest of Irvine which has been America’s safest city for years.  There is no data that ties the crime rate of this neighborhood to the location of the jail.  Both Irvine and Santa Ana are well below the state average for crime statistics.  But comparing Santa Ana to Irvine when it comes to crime statistics is very much an apples/oranges situation.

There are assurances from the Sheriff’s Department and the City Police that safety would not be an issue for Site A.  The district also offered they IUSD staff has had a number of conversations with Mr. Robert Beaver, director of research and development for s Department. From Hanigan, “Mr. Beaver also appeared at the Board s Facilities Study Session on Wednesday, Nov. 6 and offered an overview of the Musick s history and expansion plans. Though the jail has secured permission to grow to 7,584 beds, he said, a memorandum of understanding with the City of Lake Forest limits the size to 3,100 beds and prohibits the detention of maximum-security inmates.”

It’s important to note that in the MOU with Lake Forest, the Sheriff can change the terms of the number of inmates housed and the classification can change by simply informing the City Manager of Lake Forest, and this would be due to some emergency situation or if new state or federal law compels it.

Irvine Councilwoman Christina Shea contradicts IUSD when it comes to the types of prisoners housed at the expanded Musick Jail.  She writes: “We wouldn’t be looking at a present proposal of over 7500 minimum, medium, and maximum security prisoners in our back yard, if Council member Larry Agran and Councilwoman Beth Krom, hadn’t irresponsibly overturned the best deal for Irvine!”   (Agran and Krom actually sued the county to halt any expansion of Musick, so Shea is wrong about this. The city lost multiple cases in court).  IUSD says no maximum security prisoners at Musick; Shea says yes.  Who do you believe?

But as for studies that show there are no safety issues for schools located near prisons, even the district is unable to provide one.  If the district were making the case to the public on changing the way classes would be taught and cited reports that alluded to the benefits of this approach that were dated three, 10, 26 or 29 years old, would you trust the information and would you agree with the district?  I wouldn’t without more context.

Here’s what the district sent us.  You can (and should) review the reports they offer has proof yourself.  This documentation was presented in the order provided.

Studies related to safety and jails/correctional facilities

“Several studies have been conducted that looked at property values, crime rates, and local economies of communities in the vicinity of correctional facilities to determine what impacts, positive or negative, the facility had in the area.  In most cases the studies showed that new jails, if properly designed, do not have adverse impacts on local property values or any other aspect of the community…Some studies reported that crime rates dropped in areas surrounding new facilities.” (Jail Site Evaluation & Selection Second Ed, Ken Ricci, September 2004)

“…a report for the non-partisan Senate Office of Research in California found that communities with correctional facilities tend to have lower than average crime rates than those that do not have such facilities (Hawes, 1985).” (Literature Review of Impacts to Communities in Siting Correctional Facilities, Larry M. Fehr, July 1995). Note: Pages four through six of this report are particularly relevant.

“’No study showed direct evidence that a prison or jail produces an increase in local crime,’ the report stated. In fact, ‘some studies have shown a decrease in crime surrounding a jail.’” (LA Times, Report Claims Jail Expansion Could Benefit Adjacent Area. November 11, 1988)

“The overwhelming majority of studies show that there is no negative effect on public safety in the vicinity of a correctional facility.” (Public Outreach and Halfway Houses Research and Intergovernmental Solutions Final Report: Summary of Findings, Center for Community Corrections In Partnership with Doble Research Associates, August 2002)

“Shichor (1992) reports that several studies concerning the effects of prisons on the local crime rate (post-siting and using more objective indicators) show, with few exceptions, no higher crime rates in communities with prisons.  In fact, at least one research effort found lower crime rates in prison communities (see, e.g., Abrams & Lyons, 1987).” (International Journal of Business and Social Science, Vol. 2, No. 22, December 2011)

“…analysis revealed either: 1) no significant difference between the crime rates for the target and control areas, or 2) the crime rate in the target area was significantly lower than in the control area…Average escape rates varied from a low of 1 per year to a high of 12.3 per year.  Recapture rates varied from a low of 50% to 100%.  Escapes did not pose a significant threat to the personal safety of the residents near the correctional facilities.  The most serious crime committed in the neighboring communities by escapees was car theft, presumably to assist a getaway.” (An Information Brief: Issues in Siting Correctional Facilities, US Department of Justice, 1987)

Jails/correctional facilities near schools in California

City School Correctional Facility Distance (ft)
Irvine HS #5 James A. Musick Facility 5600 (From Center)
Santa Ana Santa Ana HS Santa Ana County Jail 2200
Santa Ana Heroes ES Santa Ana County Jail 2400
Chino Chino Hills HS CA Institution For Men 7700
Chino Chaparral ES CA Institution For Men 4100
Tehachapi Cummings Valley ES CA Correctional Institute 4200
Norco Highland ES CA Rehabilitation Center 4600
Vacaville Eugene Padden ES CA Medical Facility 2800
Represa Blanche Sprentz ES Folsom State Prison 5700
Los Angeles Ann Street ES Twin Towers Correctional Facility 1800
Banning Banning HS Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility 7000
Riverside Grant ES Robert Presley Detention Center 2200

So we have no studies that can attest to the safety of schools located near a jail either pro or con.  Local realtors we spoke with felt that the perception of homes near a jail would cause some buyers to pause (one realtor said some buyers refuse to buy a home near a cell tower) and that while reality says safety near a jail is usually fine, the perception is “it’s not the safest” works for many especially when you see signs along the road that say “don’t pick up hitchhikers.”

In fact, many of the studies cited by the district do cover the value of homes near jails.  One study looks at comparable homes on one street.  The homes on one side of the street, with a view of the jail and jail yard, were valued 10 percent less than comparable homes of the same size and features of homes across the street.  Many of the studies address rural communities who want jails in their communities so they can be an economic engine.  None of the examples seem to match Irvine or the planned expansion of Musick.

I remain unconvinced that Site A is the best site.  I am enjoying the back and forth debate between the District and Council member Agran.  But what I believe is in the city’s best interest is for the district to scrap Site A, Agran to abandon Site B at the Great Park and district/city staff sit down and identify other alternative sites that can serve as the city’s newest high school site — one with a nice theater for dramatic arts, a new football stadium and track facility, and an aquatic complex that will serve the needs of Irvine’s kids for years.

Both sides are displaying the sort of stubbornness that is unnecessary.  When I was an HOA president 10 years ago, we had a neighborhood conflict over a sidewalk some neighbors wanted in a city park and my neighbors opposed.  We dug up the city’s original plans and discovered a planned sidewalk that was never built and offered it as compromise.  The other side refused and because the two sides could not agree, the city left things as they were which actually worked out for my neighbors perfectly.  I suggest since both the district and the city don’t agree, they work towards a new compromise site instead.

As I have a number of friends deeply invested in support of IUSD schools and IPSF who are angry with Agran for this fight, I want to remind them that through the work of Agran, Beth Krom and Suhkee Kang, the city of Irvine provides more tax dollars for Irvine’s schools than any city in the county.  The city has no obligation to send the Irvine schools a dime, but that city council majority recognized that strong schools make for a strong community.  Rather than anger, dialogue.  Compromise can only happen when clear heads talk to each other.

  2 comments for “Site A: IUSD References Studies on Schools Near Jails are Out of Date or Non-Existent

    February 16, 2014 at 11:25 pm

    Excellent article Dan.

    I re-watched the City Council meeting in order to identify any additional arguments or comments for the reason site A was chosen in the first place. As I listened I could not imagine why the IUSD and the Council agreed that this site is the BEST we could build for our children, near a landfill and a jail. But wait, I heard the term “suitable” used as part of the decision making process.

    When I evaluate a project, my team reviews space, location, budget, time, location, investment, compliance, resources and most importantly “location”. Then I remember, what a failure the Great Park has been, problem identified.

    Put it up before the voters, it is their school, let the voters decide. We know what the City has done time and time again, waste millions of dollars, with nothing to show for it .

  2. February 17, 2014 at 9:41 am

    Thanks Katherine. My problem is the district referenced multiple studies. I asked for copies of said studies and actually read them. The don’t support the contention and when they do, the information is very out of date.

    I have requested additional documents from the district to ascertain why Site A was chosen in the first place. My personal belief is it has far more to do with helping FivePoints sell homes rather than being an ideal site to locate a school.

    Agran tells me if Site B is deemed unsuitable because of ground contamination from those 24 underground tanks (that no one seems to know how large each tank is), he’d abandon Site B but only to locate another site within the Great Park.

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