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County jails to begin releasing inmates to reduce spread of coronavirus

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Santa Clara County will release inmates and place them in involuntary home detention in an effort to reduce the jail population and lower the risk of spreading the new coronavirus across the county's jail facilities.

The county board of supervisors voted to give the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office the authority to release inmates serving jail sentences for misdemeanor crimes due to "lack of jail space," placing them instead on home detention with electronic monitoring. The county has already bought an extra 100 ankle monitors to accommodate the release of inmates.

Since March 17, the county has been under orders by public health officials to avoid all social gatherings and maintain safe social distancing -- defined by a 6-foot buffer between others. But maintaining that space in county jails is impossible without clearing out inmates.

"Because of the inherent conditions in which the County's jail inmates must live, and the close proximity of inmates, staff and volunteers within the jail facilities, proper social distancing protocols cannot be observed if the jails continue to function according to normal practices," according to a county staff report.

The sheriff's office has been on high alert for weeks, placing four inmates at the Elmwood Correctional Facility in quarantine after they were potentially exposed to the virus. Since then, a fifth inmate -- a 31-year-old man booked at the county's main jail in San Jose -- has tested positive for COVID-19.

Among the staff, a total of five sheriff's deputies have now tested positive for the virus as of Wednesday, all of whom worked together and are now self-isolating at home. The sheriff's office is still working to find who else may have been exposed.

Outside of home detention, the sheriff's office has banned all jail visits, including in-person meetings between inmates and criminal defense attorneys, though attorneys can still meet with members of the jail population by phone or by video conference. Programming that isn't legally mandated, like education courses, has been suspended as well.

In addition to releasing inmates, the sheriff's office is requesting that county courts reduce the number of people showing up in the first place. Rather than sending defendants to pretrial detention, courts are being asked to release more people on their own recognizance.

It's unclear when inmates will be released on home detention and how many will be released. The sheriff's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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7 people like this
Posted by Waldo
a resident of Waverly Park
on Mar 27, 2020 at 11:00 am

Hopefully, this program works well, and demonstrates that involuntary home detention is a viable alternative to incarceration for low level crimes and pretrial detention for low level crimes. If it is, then the county can achieve significant savings.

Like this comment
Posted by Diana ortega
a resident of another community
on Apr 3, 2020 at 9:20 am

Hello I am posting this cuz My son and grandson are locked up one looking at life and other six 6 and with this corona virus I feel that if any thing should happen to them believe there will be a big big lawnsuote

2 people like this
Posted by Gary
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Apr 3, 2020 at 1:11 pm

@ Diana Ortega Sorry your son and grandson are locked up (I gather in county jail awaiting trial) faced with possible life in prison and 6 years for something. Don't expect them to be released. The county must take reasonable precautions to avoid serious lawsuits. But the county will not be liable just because inmates get sick. Even the rich and powerful - such as rapist-director Harvey Weinstein - are not being released even when they get - or claim to have gotten - Covid-19.

2 people like this
Posted by Gary
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Apr 3, 2020 at 1:22 pm

And by the way, I see online from yesterday that the report that Harvey Weinstein had tested positive for Covid-19 was FALSE and that he has now tested NEGATIVE. Weinstein probably is just trying to get out of his life (23-year) sentence. He is trying to escape prison and flee the country - is my guess. Watch Bill Cosby play the same game.

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