Sheriff Releases Some Inmates Due to COVID-19 Fears

By Sandra G. Leon

The San Diego County Sheriff has already released more than 1,200 inmates and plans to release hundreds more to reduce overcrowding at local detentions centers in hopes of minimizing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Sheriff Bill Gore has reduced the county inmate population to 4,400 from a high of 5,600 just a few weeks ago as the virus began to spread in San Diego COuty. Inmates incarcerated for nonviolent misdemeanors or those with fewer than 60 days remaining on their sentences have been released early from county jails, and most new arrestees are being released without bail to keep them from entering the jails at all.

The Judicial Council of California last week issued a “Zero Bail” emergency order that took effect Wednesday mandating that all inmates not charged with a serious or violent offense had to be released or be in the process of being released with no bail. San Diego had had 500 inmates that would be covered by the emergency order.

The emergency order does not automatically include about 100 cases where the District Attorney’s office seeks to increase an inmate’s bail amount. Those inmates will remain in jail until they can have a court hearing, but currently, the courts are closed except for emergency matters.

The San Diego Superior Court is currently working with the District Attorney’s office, the Public Defender’s office, and the Sheriff’s department to use remote video appearances for all felonies and misdemeanors. The Court expects to start hearing cases next week where the defendant is in custody and has a right to a hearing consistent with the additional time that has been ordered by the Chief Justice. The defendant will appear remotely from the detention facility and lawyers may have the option to appear by telephone as well.

Only three cases have been reported in county inmates, two of which have been released. The third inmate to contract the virus is still in custody.

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