What Could Go Wrong? LA County Releases 600 Inmates to Combat Coronavirus

Prison cells in big jail and security guard. (JANIFEST/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Sometimes it would be nice to have a curious press.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced Monday that his department has reduced the jail population “by more than 600 inmates” and that his deputies have been “directed to cite and release people…instead of arresting them,” if their bail would be less than $50,000. He also bragged that “countywide…arrests have dropped from a daily average of 300 to 60.”


Why would we possibly want hundreds of criminals out of jail early and to encourage deputies to NOT arrest people who are breaking the law?

Oh, Wuhan coronavirus.

“Civil rights advocates” are pouncing on the pandemic to bully law enforcement officials (some of whom don’t need to be bullied very hard, unfortunately) to reduce the jail population, “citing concerns about the mayhem a COVID-19 outbreak could create within the prison and immigration detention system, which has been criticized for lacking sufficient capacity to meet inmates’ medical needs even before the pandemic.”

Villanueva has also asked his deputies to assess people they’re going to either arrest or cite and release for symptoms of coronavirus and to obtain medical clearance before booking – a process that can take hours.

Nevertheless, Villanueva seemed pleased that he was “protecting” the criminal population.

“Our population within our jail is a vulnerable population just by virtue of who they are and where they’re located,” Villanueva said Monday at a news conference in downtown L.A. “So we’re protecting that population from potential exposure.”

A curious member of the press might ask Villanueva why the jail population is “vulnerable…by virtue of who they are.” Who are they, exactly? The only thing we know is that they are offenders who had less than 30 days left in jail. No one asked if there was any other qualification for early release, but the ACLU had an idea.


What is “enough,” ACLU? Who gets to decide whether a particular inmate’s “release would not pose a serious physical safety risk to the community,” and what are those guidelines? These individuals are not, as Johns Hopkins epidemiology professor Chris Beyrer (a scientist with a definite political bias) “being detained for not paying a parking fee or because they are poor and can’t make bail.” Since California’s solution to prison overcrowding (despite Kamala Harris’ best efforts) was to jail fewer people instead of building more prisons, no one in California goes to jail for not paying a parking fee.

There are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in LA County jails, though 35 inmates housed in three jail facilities have been quarantined. But no matter. Los Angeles officials have made the city even less safe during a explosive time by releasing hundreds of inmates and publicly proclaiming for all to hear that it’s okay to go forth and commit crimes, because there will be no consequence.

A curious press would ask some real pointed questions of the Sheriff about all of this. Here are a few:


“Is it fair for deputies dealing with a freaked-out public and a massive, mentally unstable, and potentially contagious homeless population to have the additional responsibility of being able to determine a criminal’s potential bail exposure on the spur of the moment so they can decide whether to arrest or to cite and release?”

“Is it reasonable to expect your deputies to assess those they’re arresting for coronavirus symptoms?”

“If your deputies book someone into jail whose bail ends up being under $50,000, or if they book someone who ends up testing positive for coronavirus, are they going to be disciplined?”

“What are the guidelines for releasing someone early?”

“Of the inmates who have been released, can you give us a listing of the crimes they were originally charged with – not what they eventually pleaded to?”

“Is it wise during this time of panic and hoarding to advertise that your department’s default position is to cite and release?”

“You seem pretty proud of protecting criminals, many of whom likely have a record longer than a CVS receipt if they’re actually serving more than 30 days in lockup. Where is your concern for the law-abiding people of your county?”

“When you said the jail population is vulnerable because of ‘who they are,’ what did you mean by that?”

“Are you ensuring that these inmates you’re putting out into the streets actually have a home to go to, or are you simply adding to the homeless population?”


Answers to all of those questions would be nice, but the LA Times reporters obviously didn’t ask them. Instead, they ran a piece with the headline “L.A. County Releasing Some Inmates From jail to Combat Coronavirus,” as if these people are going to pitch in and help people.

It seems that reporters are more eager to find non-existent racist messages within any Republican’s (but especially Donald Trump’s) public comments than they are about finding out finding answers to serious questions about public safety. What’s even worse is that they aren’t even curious enough to have a question.



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