Santa Clara County Jails Pushed to Release More Inmates

PUBLISHED JUN 4, 2020 12:00 A.M.
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  Will Buckner   CC-BY-2.0

With inmates continuing to test newly positive for COVID-19 at the Main Jail in San Jose, activists and others have been calling for the release of more inmates, according to multiple Bay Area news outlets.

Robert Salonga reported Thursday in the Mercury News that activists and relatives of people currently held at different facilities in Santa Clara County took to the streets by car to protest for pretrial and compassionate release for inmates threatened by coronavirus.

Over the past few months, the inmate population at the Main Jail has fallen sharply—by roughly a third—going from more than 3,200 inmates in March to 2,156 on the morning of May 27.

It’s a start, though it’s not enough, Santa Clara County Public Defender Molly O’Neal said in a written statement, according to San Jose Spotlight. “Jails were not designed with wide open spaces and lots of room,” O’Neal said. “So it is almost physically impossible without isolating folks to provide meals, pill call, movement, programming.”

Even with the decreased inmate population, the number of known cases of COVID-19 in local jails have continued to rise, with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office announcing three new cases on May 27, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The first case was of a man arrested May 9 who was housed in one of the Main Jail’s “14-day separation units,” according to KPIX. The station noted that the other two cases were from Elmwood Correctional Facility’s Minimum Camp.

How to deal with the problems posed by COVID-19 going forward remains a source of debate. Salonga reported in early April that the state’s Judicial Council approved temporarily waiving bail for lower-level offenses, though that move has earned ridicule from some in law enforcement, such as Alameda County Sheriff’s Sergeant Ray Kelly. “You can steal a car every day and just do the revolving door at the jail,” Kelly told Bay Area News Group earlier in the week, according to Salonga.

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