Los Angeles releases some inmates early due to coronavirus concerns

Several inmates nearing the end of their sentence were released from prison early in Los Angeles in an effort to reduce the prison population due to coronavirus.

DailyMail reports the Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has moved to cut the number of prisoners in its jails by more than 600 over concerns about the coronavirus.

Despite there being are no confirmed cases of the virus in the jails, 21 inmates have been quarantined at Men’s Central Jail, five are in quarantine at Twin Towers Correctional Facility and a further nine at the Correctional Treatment Center.

‘All of them are receiving the necessary level of care,’ Villanueva said at a news conference Monday.

LATimes reports Sheriff Alex Villanueva said deputies and police officers across the county have been directed to cite and release people whenever possible, instead of arresting them, and to seek medical clearance before booking anyone who shows symptoms. Countywide, he said, arrests have dropped from a daily average of 300 to 60, while the jail population was reduced by more than 600 inmates.

“Our population within our jail is a vulnerable population just by virtue of who they are and where they’re located,” Villanueva said Monday at a news conference in downtown L.A. “So we’re protecting that population from potential exposure.”

The move came amid mounting calls by civil rights advocates and health professionals to reduce the number of people held in local, state and federal lock-ups. They raised concerns about the mayhem a COVID-19 outbreak could create within the prison and immigration detention system, which has been criticized for lacking sufficient capacity to meet inmates’ medical need even before the pandemic.

“It’s too easy to forget about those who are in conditions that will be a powder keg when COVID-19 hits,” said Miriam Krinsky, executive director of the reform group Fair and Just Prosecution who previously headed the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence. “What the sheriff identified is a good first step but it can’t be the only thing that we do.”

Chris Beyrer, a Johns Hopkins University epidemiology professor, recalled the case of a 16-year-old Guatemalan in immigration detention who was treated with over-the-counter flu medications, and died the next morning of acute respiratory distress — the same syndrome that makes COVID-19 cases so lethal.

“Nobody should be being detained for not paying a parking fee or because they are poor and can’t make bail,” Beyrer said. “We need to be releasing those people yesterday.”

California suspended visitation in state prisons Wednesday, and over the weekend broadened that to include overnight family visits. Sheriff’s officials in Los Angeles and Orange counties followed suit.

San Quentin State Prison has put some 1,800 inmates in quarantine after reports of flu-like illnesses within two cell blocks. One of those is the reception unit where new prisoners arrive from jail.