‘Public should be in a panic:’ Calif. jail to release half of inmate population


SANTA ANA, Calif. (KCAL) - A California court has ordered the crowded Orange County Jail’s inmate population to be reduced by half out of concern for coronavirus safety.

However, the sheriff says he’s worried about the safety of the general public if more than 1,800 violent inmates are released.

“The public should be in a panic, and they should be concerned about this release,” Sheriff Don Barnes said.

If the county’s large jail population is cut in half to abide by a new court order, Barnes says the public’s safety will be at risk.

“These aren’t low-lying offenders, these are people in for very serious offenses: murder, attempted murder, domestic violence,” Barnes said.

Orange County Civil Court Judge Peter Wilson sided with the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the sheriff over concerns about inmates spreading coronavirus in congregated living areas.

Conditions in the jail do not permit proper social distancing, the judge ruled.

The population in the jail is 3,716 inmates and the judge ordered that it be reduced by 50%, which means 1,858 inmates would be released.

Several hundred of them are medically vulnerable.

“Of just those who are medically vulnerable based on CDC guidelines, that’s 700 inmates in our care,” Barnes said. “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.”

Barnes says more than 1,300 inmates have already been released since the pandemic began.

He’s appealing the court’s order.

“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,” Barnes said.

At least 416 inmates in the Orange County Jail have confirmed cases of COVID-19.

In late May, health officials reported a major surge in coronavirus cases in California prisons.

Since then, more than 27,000 cases have been reported in prisons statewide, and 96 inmates have died.

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