The Orange County Probation Department announced July 23 that they are concerned about their ability to handle an influx of prison inmates likely to be released early by the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Orange County Chief Probation Officer Steve Sentman said that at least 176 of the California state prison inmates scheduled to be released early in an ongoing effort to reduce the spread of the disease are likely to return to the county.
Some released inmates have been exposed to COVID-19 and may in fact test positive for the disease, Sentman said during a press conference.
“The Probation Department is working closely with the Orange County Health Care Agency to manage any public health concerns,” Sentman said.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announced earlier this month that an additional 8,000 inmates statewide could be eligible for accelerated release by the end of August.
Since the start of the pandemic, the CDCR has already reduced the prison population by approximately 10,000 inmates to prevent overcrowding in an aggressive action to slow the spread of the disease in its facilities statewide.
“The Probation Department has had to rely on existing limited resources, previously allocated staffing, and realignment funding to provide the release coordination, transportation, and supervision of these releases,” Sentman said.
“After witnessing the deadly effects of COVID-19 inside California’s dangerously overcrowded prisons, Governor Newsom’s plan is the right decision to help protect the lives of people living and working inside prisons and in surrounding communities,” said Anne Irwin, director of Smart Justice California.
Orange County officials expressed concern for the potential threat released inmates could have on public safety.
“This is a matter of public safety. By releasing violent criminals, pedophiles, and sex offenders, @Gavin Newsom is putting our communities in danger,” Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel said in a July 23 tweet.
According to the CDCR, inmates must meet certain factors to be considered for early release, which include having 180 days or less to serve, not serving time for violent crimes, and having no current or previous sentence requiring them to register as sex offenders.
In institutions identified as high risk for COVID-19, inmates who have 365 days or less remaining to serve their sentence and fall under the previous stated requirements are also eligible for release.
“Too many people are incarcerated for too long in facilities that spread poor health. Supporting the health and safety of all Californians means releasing people unnecessarily incarcerated and transforming our justice system,” said Jay Jordan, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice.
According to the CDCR, 7,692 state prison inmates have tested positive for the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus as of July 27. There are currently 1,801 active cases in custody, and there have been 47 inmate deaths as of July 27.