Hundreds Of Inmates Released From County Jails With Zero Bail Due To COVID-19
The California Judicial Council voted to temporarily end cash bail for suspected lower-level offenders in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19 in jails. During the meeting on April 6, 2020, the council approved several temporary emergency rules aimed to slow the spread of COVID-19 in jails and courtrooms in every county in California.
For most misdemeanor and lower-level felonies, the emergency order sets bail at zero dollars. The order took effect on April 13 and will remain in effect until 90 days after the lifting of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Sacramento Bee, court leaders stated it would allow more people accused of lower-level offenses to be released before their first court appearance, which would ease the load on the limited staff at most courts because of the pandemic. In recent weeks counties have released hundreds of inmates from overcrowded jails.
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon and District Attorney Jason Anderson strongly oppose the Judicial Council’s ruling saying, “this broad-brush approach is short-sided and not in the best interest of public safety.” In a video message released by Sheriff McMahon said: “Putting undue stress on our residents by releasing a record number of inmates into the community goes against our mission of providing law enforcement solutions that meet the need of our community.” He continued, “The change to zero bail for arrestees dramatically compromises our community’s sense of safety and well being.”
Hundreds of new arrestees and inmates who have been in custody are currently in the process of being released, which is undoing decisions previously made by county judges. As an example, an inmate in custody with prior convictions of child abuse and domestic violence was arrested on new charges of felony child abuse. Due to the new zero bail criteria, this inmate was released without bail and given a new court date of sometime in July. Because the Sheriff cannot hold him, there is no guarantee he doesn’t recontact, live with, or cause additional harm to the individual.
Currently, San Bernardino County jail populations are below average, and there is sufficient bed space to isolate and quarantine inmates if needed. Inmates receive excellent medical treatment, often more readily available that those not in jail. At this time, there is only one county inmate that has contracted COVID-19.
“It makes no sense to keep law-abiding people in their homes, but let alleged criminals our fo custody,” said District Attorney Anderson. “Everyone in San Bernardino County needs to know that the inmates that are currently in custody have already had their cases reviewed by judges and determined to be a risk to the safety of the public. The fact that there’s a pandemic doesn’t mean they are less of a threat to the public if released.”
District Attorney Anderson is confident that the public can remain safe while also making sure inmates are cared for by qualified jail and medical staff. The District Attorney’s office can also make modifications to the criminal justice process in the courtrooms to make sure due process continues, and everyone’s constitutional rights are observed.
“The sheriff and his personnel, along with the entire district attorney’s office, and law enforcement officers from across San Bernardino County have a commitment to ensure our residents and business owners are safe and secure during this pandemic, and that everyone knows that if you commit a crime here in San Bernardino County, that you will be held accountable for your actions,” said District Attorney Anderson.
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