Judge Orders Sheriff to Let 50% of Inmates Go Free

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On Friday, a Superior Court judge ordered the Orange County sheriff to reduce the number of inmates currently in the county’s jail system by 50 percent to help slow down the spread of COVID-19.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the move was a response to the American Civil Liberties Union’s April lawsuit against Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes. The suit sought to release medically vulnerable and disabled inmates, including a needed measure to protect the coronavirus’s remaining detainees. 

The outlet reported that Judge Peter Wilson ruled that the sheriff violated the individuals’ state constitutional rights in custody, particularly the ones more susceptible to contracting and falling ill to the virus. The judge said that Barnes showed “deliberate indifference” to the threat that the pandemic poses to the immunocompromised and elders. 

Judge Wilson concluded, “conditions in the jail do not permit proper social distancing,” adding that there is no mandatory testing of staff or asymptomatic detainees and without strictly enforced masks policy for all staff’s interaction with inmates.” 

In a statement, Barnes responded that the department was “evaluating the order, its impacts, and our options for appeal.” 



According to the Sheriff, should the order stands, more than 1,800 inmates will be released.

Barnes said several of the inmates are in pre-trial status or have been convicted of violent crimes. Releasing them into the community would put the people at substantial risk, not to mention the impact on the victims of the crimes. 

The Los Angeles Times further reported that the order includes all congregated living areas – dormitories, barracks-style housing, and multi-person cells to be reduced by 50 percent. The judge apparently instructed Barnes to submit a release plan by December 31 listing all medically vulnerable inmates.

The reductions would be “until the current COVID-19 emergency is declared terminated,” also seeking to impose a strict policy for staff to wear face masks when they are within six feet of an inmate.”

The Orange County’s jail system was considered the second-largest in California before the pandemic. However, a Sheriff Department’s spokesperson told The Daily Wire that she couldn’t confirm that the same is still the case.

Barnes reduced the jail population last spring by about 45 percent and was later instructed by a court to release more detainees, including some sex offenders. 

The agency said that the average daily jail count declined to 2,826 on May 11 during the wave of COVID-19 cases. The number steadily increased to 3,628 but still below the 6,159 capacity. 

None have died in the 691 inmates who tested COVID-19 positive in Orange County since March. Only three were admitted to hospitals for treatment.   

Jails conditions and policy coordinator at the ACLU of Southern California Daisy Ramirez said that “this victory belongs to the incarcerated people who had the courage to speak out about Sheriff Barnes’s failed response to COVID-19.”

Ramirez continued, “Their resistance and leadership will save lives.” Apparently, the Orange County hospitals are nearing maximum capacity. She said the court’s decision would help prevent the medical facilities from being totally overwhelmed.


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