ORANGE COUNTY, CA – Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes spoke out about his concerns regarding a recent court order instructing the Orange County Jail to reduce the inmate population by 50% in light of the pandemic.
“These aren’t low-lying offenders, these are people in for very serious offenses: murder, attempted murder, domestic violence,” the sheriff said. https://t.co/XeHLo3Dn9j
— WBRC FOX6 News (@WBRCnews) December 15, 2020
And what the sheriff said of the debacle is that the local public “should be in a panic.”
Apparently a California court has deemed the Orange County Jail to be overcrowded in respect to maintaining a semblance of pandemic observations.
But Sheriff Barnes says that there’s more to worry about rather than a possible caveats associated with a facility that is perceived as crowded during a pandemic:
“The public should be in a panic, and they should be concerned about this release.”
This endeavor could see more than 1,800 inmates get released, some of whom could very well be violent. Sheriff Barnes says that if the jail abides by the court order, then the public would then be at risk from something more than just the virus:
“These aren’t low-lying offenders, these are people in for very serious offenses: murder, attempted murder, domestic violence.”
The man behind the order is Orange County Civil Court Judge, Peter Wilson, who reportedly sided with the ACLU, who filed the lawsuit with concern about inmates spreading coronavirus in congregated living areas.
When Judge Wilson reviewed the case, he proclaimed that the jail isn’t poised to provide proper social distancing with the number of inmates currently being housed.
The judge ordered a 50% reduction in the inmate population, translating to a total of 1,858 inmates released. Yet, according to Sheriff Barnes, only about 700 inmates are what the CDC would consider to be high-risk for the virus:
“Of just those who are medically vulnerable based on CDC guidelines, that’s 700 inmates in our care. There are 59 of them in for murder, another 39 for attempted murder, and 90 of them in for child molestation and a litany of other violent crimes.”
The jail isn’t currently operating at full capacity either. Sheriff Barnes stated that more than 1,300 inmates have already been released since the pandemic was declared earlier this year.
In the interest of public safety, Sheriff Barnes is fighting back and appealing the order. Furthermore, he says that if a judge wants to release inmates, then that judge better be the one to pick and choose every inmate by name:
“If this judge is going to order the release of individuals entrusted in my care who I believe present a significant threat to the public, he will have to identify each one of those by name and order their release pursuant to his authority, not mine.”
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We at Law Enforcement Today had previously reported on the order issued by the judge earlier in December regarding this matter.
Here’s that previous report.
SANTA ANA, CA- On Friday, December 11th, an Orange County Superior Court judge ordered Sheriff Don Barnes to reduce the inmate population at the county jails by half because of COVID-19 concerns.
Out of the 700 inmates being considered for release, 59 are in for murder, 39 for attempted murder, and 90 for child molestation and a litany of other crimes, Sheriff Barnes said. https://t.co/98q81PELG7
— CBS Los Angeles (@CBSLA) December 15, 2020
Superior Court Judge Peter J. Wilson issued the order in response to a lawsuit that was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of the inmates, some of who have already been released, claiming they were particularly at risk due to underlying health conditions.
Sheriff Barnes said in a statement:
“We are evaluating the order, its impacts and our options for appeal. If the order stands, it will result in the release of more than 1,800 inmates.”
Daisy Ramirez, jails conditions and policy coordinator at the ACLU of Southern California, said in a statement:
“This victory belongs to the incarcerated people who had the courage to speak out about Sheriff Barnes’ failed response to COVID-19. Their resistance and leadership will save lives, as Orange County Hospitals are currently nearing capacity.”
“The court’s decision to alleviate the pressure on the jail by depopulating will help prevent the medical infrastructure, in the jail and in the surrounding community from becoming totally overwhelmed.”
BAD NEWS: A judge in Orange County, CA ordered “medically vulnerable” murderers and rapists to be released from jail because of the pandemic.
GOOD NEWS: Sheriff Don Barnes dismissed the judge’s orders and refused to release them.
— Ben Owen (@hrkbenowen) December 15, 2020
“Many of these inmates are pre-trial status for or have been convicted of violent crimes and will be released back into the community.”
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer criticized the order, saying:
“It will release dangerous and violent criminals back into our neighborhoods to commit more crimes and victimize people.”
A Superior Court judge on Friday ordered Sheriff Don Barnes to reduce Orange County’s jail population by half to allow for more social distancing among inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic. https://t.co/WNg8nxNcVy
— Spectrum News 1 SoCal (@SpecNews1SoCal) December 12, 2020
However, Jacob Reisberg of the ACLU claims that Barnes has options “beyond the unconditional” release of inmates. He said:
“It’s not like people just get dropped off outside the jail. Don Barnes has the option of moving people or basically setting them up with ankle monitors. So, there can be safety there as well.”
ACLU attorney Corene Kendrick said:
“It’s not rocket science on how to do it.”
The judges ruling comes as Barnes contends with a new outbreak of COVID-19 in the jails this past week. On Thursday, December 10th, he announced that there were 102 inmates infected with COVID-19. That number reportedly increased to 138 by Friday, December 11th. Of those, 27 were newly booked inmates and 11 were in general population.
— President-Elect Stephen REEEE (@Stephenkek101) December 12, 2020
Barnes said in a statement:
“The order to cut the jail population by half puts our community at substantial risk and does not take into account the impact on the victims of these crimes, many of which were violent offenses.”
In total, 691 Orange County inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 since the first positive inmate was reported on March 24th. Of those, only two inmates have been hospitalizes and none have died.
A California judge Friday ordered jail officials in Orange County to reduce its prisoner population in half after guards failed to enforce social distancing guidelines, @latimes reports. https://t.co/b8IyIEyShp
— The Marshall Project (@MarshallProj) December 14, 2020
County lawyers told the judge that such an outbreak would be impossible at the jail, calling it safer than anywhere else in Orange County, where COVID-19 cases have been surging along with the rest of California.
The jails have a capacity of 6,159, but the inmate population is currently at 3,628 after precautions taken by Barnes. Allegedly, the sheriff was ordered to file a plan with the court no later than December 31st, detailing how the reduction has been achieved and how the county plans to keep the inmate population at a lower density.
A CA court has ordered the crowded Orange County Jail’s inmate population to be reduced by half out of concern for coronavirus safety.
The sheriff says he’s worried about the safety of the general public if more than 1,800 violent inmates are released.https://t.co/RNZRRerMGE
— Harrison Krank (@HarrisonKrank) December 15, 2020
The court also ordered the jail to continue to take all necessary measures to ensure social distancing until the “current COVID-19 emergency is declared terminated.” Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project said in a statement:
“This order will save lives. We have seen again and again in this suit and in similar litigation around the country, corrections officials have not taken the necessary steps to protect incarcerated people from the spread of COVID-19 nor have they been honest about the circumstances and risk levels in the facilities.”
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