Sheriff: California jail inmates shared water bottle to catch virus, be released from prison

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LOS ANGELES COUNTY, CA – Recently obtained security footage from the Pitchess Detention Center in California seems to showcase jail inmates attempting to contract COVID-19 from one another while also trying to artificially increase their temperature readings for staff tasked with taking their temperatures.

Some say that it’s a move to try and snag that “get out of jail free card,” compliments of the pandemic hysteria.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva stated after, security footage showcased inmates intentionally sharing a water bottle within the jail, that numerous inmates tested positive for COVID-19:

“As a direct result of the behavior seen in the video, 21 men tested positive for COVID-19 within a week.”

Sheriff Villanueva noted that if inmates inside the jail think that this practice will see them miraculously released, then they’re operating under some misguided notions:

“Somehow there was some mistaken belief among the inmate population that if they tested positive that there was a way to force our hand and somehow release more inmates out of our jail environment — and that’s not going to happen.”

In the video obtained, one inmate can be seen getting water from the hot water dispenser, which would typically be used for the likes of instant coffee or preparing ramen noodles. From there, the inmate begins to hand off the water to various others inside of the jail pod, while nursing staff are preparing to take inmate temperatures.

Officials believe that the drinking of the hot water was a means to fluctuate a reading of the inmates’ temperatures so as to showcase body temps akin to that of a fever.

So what exactly would have given these inmates the idea that testing positive for COVID-19 could get them an expedited release? Well, Law Enforcement Today reported back in March of this year about how LA County was in fact releasing certain inmates over COVID-19 concerns. 

Here’s the original reported from back in March: 

It seems that officials in California, with respect to law enforcement and jails, are taking concerns of jail staff and inmate population and health seriously.  But will it put the general population in danger?

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This has resulted in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department releasing certain jailed inmates early. Additionally, they’re not even arresting suspected offenders and instead issuing them citations.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva has been keeping watch of the myriad of calls to law enforcement to start gearing toward a cite-and-release model of policing when feasible.

This is also in conjunction with rallying cries to implement a method of medical screening so as not to potentially taint an entire jail facility.

In this instance, the sheriff is doing a little bit of both.

On March 16th, Sheriff Villanueva spoke about the concerns over policing and jails during a press conference:

“Our population within our jail is a vulnerable population just by virtue of who they are and where they’re located. So, we’re protecting that population from potential exposure.”

The measures that have been taken thus far have seen a decrease in arrests that once averaged 300 per day, now having dropped to roughly 60 per day.

Miriam Krinsky has been involved in inmate-advocate programs before and currently serves as the executive director of the reform group Fair and Just Prosecution. The way Krinsky sees things, jails and prisons are a ticking time bomb if not addressed appropriately:

“It’s too easy to forget about those who are in conditions that will be a powder keg when COVID-19 hits. What the sheriff identified is a good first step but it can’t be the only thing that we do.”

Outside of L.A. County, the entire State of California has suspended inmate visitation to state prisons. While that can curb spread to a degree, it doesn’t come near to the potential exposure that correctional staff bring in daily.

Sheriff Villanueva at the time had some inmates quarantined for showing flu-like symptoms. He’s sequestered 35 inmates so far between the Men’s Central Jail, Twin Towers Correctional Facility, and the Correctional Treatment Center.

Of the cite-and-release practice currently taking place, deputies can let suspected criminals go undetained if they suspect their bail to be $50,000 or less if they were to appear before a judge. Sheriff Villanueva explained that they once had the suspected bail threshold lower:

“We’ve raised it from $25,000 to $50,000. Another way we’re reducing the population.”

That high of a bail amount is worrisome, as some pretty egregious acts get slapped with $50K or less in bail frequently.

So, are the measures too much, fairly adequate, or too minimal?

It’s on overall bad situation from every direction.

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