Sacramento County Releases Inmates Early To Curb Coronavirus Spread

Overcrowded jails are ill-prepared for a coronavirus outbreak.


To minimize the spread of coronavirus, Sacramento County is releasing some jail inmates early.

Jails and prisons are ill-prepared for a coronavirus outbreak, thanks to poor sanitization, overcrowding, and the presence of elderly inmates. To reduce the risks to both inmates and staff—and, ultimately, to people on the outside as well—the Sacramento Superior Court authorized the sheriff's office to release inmates with fewer than 30 days left on their sentence.

The California county's accelerated release, as explained in a Tuesday order, shall continue through the end of May. The sheriff's office says the change would cover just a handful of nonviolent offenders.

Sacramento isn't alone. In another part of the state, Los Angeles County has decided as much as possible to issue citations rather than arresting people. The daily arrest rate has dropped from an average of 300 to 60 in the county, and the jail population has dropped b about 600.

On Monday, the city government in Washington, D.C., announced a plan to give the Department of Corrections more discretion to award credits for good behavior, which would help grant "immediate release of persons sentenced for misdemeanors."

A group of 31 prosecutors associated with Fair and Justice Prosecution released a joint statement this week asking local governments to adopt cite-and-release policies for low-level offenses, to release individuals currently jailed merely for technical violations or because they can't afford bail, to release non-dangerous inmates who are vulnerable to coronavirus or are within six months of the completion of their sentence, to ensure better medical care and contact with families and attorneys, and to reduce immigration enforcement, especially near medical centers.

"Elected prosecutors have an obligation to protect all members of the community including those behind prison walls and living in densely populated detention facilities," Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, tells Reason. "Make no mistake, an outbreak of the coronavirus in incarceration and detention settings will spread quickly and impact not simply those behind bars, but our entire community. We must act now to reduce the existing detained populations and incarcerate fewer people moving forward. In doing so, we can not only help to reduce the spread of infection but also bring home people who no longer present a safety risk to their communities."

Related: An Ohio county released 28 low-level offenders over the weekend to reduce the spread of coronavirus.