Release some inmates to ease coronavirus threat in jail, California official says

By Don Sweeny – March 11, 2020 – The Sacramento Bee

Should jails free some inmates to help curb the spread of coronavirus? Yes, one California official says.

Mano Raju, the San Francisco public defender, released a statement Tuesday urging sheriff’s officials to immediately release some prisoners, particularly those at greatest risk from the COVID-19 virus.

“People who are incarcerated in jail are already exposed to an unsafe environment,” Raju said in the statement. “The cramped and unsanitary conditions in jail put the older or immunocompromised population at a much greater risk of contracting and spreading coronavirus.”

More than 121,000 cases of the COVID-19 virus have been confirmed worldwide with more than 4,300 deaths as of March 11, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States has more than 1,000 confirmed cases with 32 deaths.

California has 157 confirmed coronavirus cases, but thousands more may have been exposed, the Los Angeles Times reports. Three people have died in the state.

In his statement, Raju says pre-trial prisoners at heightened risk from the virus should be immediately released from jail to reduce health risks if an outbreak should occur.

That would include “people over 60, those with heart or lung disease, diabetes, and immunosuppressed individuals who are suffering from cancer, HIV, or autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or multiple sclerosis,” Raju said.

He also encouraged the release of anyone eligible for work-release or electronic monitoring and anyone with less than six months to serve to help reduce crowding.

“These are cases where the court has already decided that it’s safe to release someone into the community, and will be doing so in the very near future,” Raju said. “This will help reduce the population on the inside, allowing for recommended distance between individuals during this public health crisis.”

Nancy Crowley, a spokesperson for Sheriff Paul Miyamoto, said officials are finalizing a plan for a potential outbreak at the jail, The San Francisco Examiner reported.

“It would involve safely medically transporting them to a health facility,” Crowley said, according to the publication. Inmates also could be quarantined within the jail. “We would obviously sanitize everything.”

Jail officials are screening incoming inmates for the virus and urging visitors who may be sick to stay away, The San Francisco Examiner reported.

“We are doing everything that we possibly can to prevent the coronavirus,” Crowley said, according to the publication. “At the present, there is probably a better chance of people getting coronavirus outside of jail than inside of jail because of the screening procedures that we follow.”


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