Superior Court Orders Dismissal of Lawsuit Ordering Release of 1,800 Inmates

June 10, 2021 Updated: June 10, 2021

The Orange County Superior Court ordered the dismissal of a lawsuit June 10 that sought to release 50 percent of the Orange County Jail inmate population to allow for more social distancing.

The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in June 2020, claimed that the COVID-19 pandemic could hurt vulnerable inmates with underlying health conditions.

After being ordered by Superior Court Judge Peter J. Wilson to release the inmates last December due to a COVID outbreak within the jails, Sheriff Don Barnes appealed the decision multiple times, stating it would cause great danger to the community due to the risk that many of them would re-offend.

If successful, the suit would have resulted in more than 1,800 inmates being released back into the community, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, and many were in pre-trial status for or were already convicted of violent crimes.

“Navigating the pandemic presented challenges, but I am proud of the exceptional work of our personnel who continued to provide for the health and safety of inmates in our custody,” Barnes said in a prepared statement.

“Most importantly, we accomplished this work without releasing dangerous criminal offenders and compromising public safety. This ruling validates the extraordinary innovation, diligence and dedication of custody personnel and Correctional Health Services staff.”

To help mitigate the outbreak, the sheriff’s department quarantined new inmates for two weeks before letting them into the general population, gave many COVID tests, and offered the vaccine to any inmate who wanted it.

Follow Drew on Twitter: @DrewVanVoorhis