Officials in Los Angeles County are releasing inmates and making fewer arrests to reduce the risk of a coronavirus outbreak in the jail and prison systems.
"Our population within our jails is a vulnerable population just by who they are, where they are located, so we're protecting that population from potential exposure," Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva told reporters Monday.
The potential for an outbreak of the coronavirus inside jails and prisons has been a growing concern as officials across the country urge people to stay home and avoid contact with large groups of people. Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies are looking for ways to mitigate the risk in crowded lockups that have often been susceptible to contagions because of inmates' proximity to one another.
In Los Angeles County, the largest county prison system in the US, Villanueva said his office had reduced the population from 17,076 inmates to 16,459, a reduction of more than 600 inmates, in about two weeks.
Meanwhile, police departments across the county — including the Los Angeles Police Department — are reducing the number of arrests per day, cutting back from an average of about 300 to 60 this past weekend, Villanueva said. That's because those who can just be cited without being booked at local jails are being released.
"That gives you an idea what each agency is doing, and they're doing their best," Villanueva said.
In Los Angeles County jails, there have been no verified cases of COVID-19, but at least 35 inmates have been placed in quarantine across three detention centers after displaying symptoms.
"All of them are receiving the necessary care," Villanueva said.
Law enforcement agencies across California have nearly uniformly opposed any sort of early release measures for inmates, but the coronavirus pandemic and the possible spread of the virus inside jails and prisons have made local officials consider all possibilities.
County jails and state prisons across the country appeared to be taking, or considering, similar steps in response to the global pandemic, which has caused governors across the US to urge people to stay home and avoid contact with other people.
In Ohio, the Cuyahoga County Jail moved to release hundreds of inmates from its system Saturday over coronavirus concerns. Judges held a special session to release some inmates, move others to state prison, and to settle cases of inmates who had already pleaded guilty.
Administrative Judge Brendan Sheehan told WJW many inmates were already in poor health. People with underlying health conditions could be at higher risk of developing severe symptoms if they are infected with the virus. He also said the jail needed the extra space in case any inmates needed to be quarantined.
In Los Angeles, as part of an effort to decrease the jail population, Villanueva has begun releasing early some inmates who had fewer than 30 days remaining in their sentences, which he is legally allowed to do.
Los Angeles County has also temporarily shut down visitation of inmates in an effort to avoid the possible introduction of the virus from an outside visitor. The Sheriff's Department has also canceled the vacations of deputies in order to increase the number of patrols.