California Sheriff Refuses Order to Release Inmates Due to COVID

A sheriff in Santa Ana, California is fighting back against a judge’s order to reduce Orange County’s jail population in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus among inmates.

County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson ruled Friday that 50 percent or 1,858 inmates out of 3,716 must be released including some who are locked up for murder and child molestation, a local ABC affiliate KABC-TV reported.

Sheriff Don Barnes pushed back against Wilson’s order, saying, “I have no intention of releasing any of these individuals from my custody.”

“We are going to file an appeal and we’re going to fight it and if the judge has any intent of releasing any one of these individuals, he will have to go through line by line, name by name and tell me which ones he is ordering released,” said Barnes.

In an effort to protect disabled and medically vulnerable people at the Orange County Jail, reports said, but Barnes plans to appeal.

The judge’s order comes after The American Civil Liberties Union sued the sheriff in an effort to protect inmates from contracting the virus in cramped living areas.

“Public safety does not just mean crime,” the ACLU’s Jacob Reisberg said, KABC reported.

“Public safety also means, is there a hospital bed open if you get sick? And if there’s a massive outbreak in the jail, which this de-population order is trying to avoid, there will not be hospital capacity in Orange County for people on the outside who get COVID,” he added.

Barnes was ordered to come up with a list of named inmates by Dec. 30. “These aren’t low-lying offenders — these are people in for very serious offenses, like murder, attempted murder, and domestic violence,” the sheriff warned.

This week, the jail reported total cases at 416, however Barnes suggested the sudden rise in cases to the jail recently beginning to test everyone, including asymptomatic patients, something that’s not being done in the outside population.

“We have inmates who are participating in different practices. Either going to medical appointments or going to court or meeting with their attorneys. These people are all from the general public and we know there’s a surge within the general public.”

District Attorney Todd Spitzer also made the point that the spike in cases in the jail mirrors the trends around the nation.

“Why does anybody think that what’s going on in our jails is not gonna be a mirror image of what’s already happening on the outside?”

Spitzer argued the rising case numbers are “not out of control or inflated” compared to the transmission rate of the virus outside of the jail.

Additionally, Barnes and Spitzer said the release of 1,800 inmates could create more crime and crime victims, citing data from the DA’s office.

“Throwing open the jail doors and releasing dangerous and violent inmates back into our communities where they will no doubt continue to commit new crimes is not the answer. It is not in the interest of the criminal justice system, it is not in the interest of the public, and it is not in the interest of safety,” Spitzer warned.

About Catherine Smith

Catherine Smith is a newcomer to Washington D.C. She met and married an American journalist and moved to D.C. from the U.K. She graduated with a B.A. in Graphics, Media, and Communications and worked in design and retail in the U.K.

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