SLO County could release 50 jail inmates under state order

Despite opposition from both the San Luis Obispo County sheriff and district attorney, an estimated 50 inmates could be released from the county jail under a state of California judicial order that took effect on Monday.

The California Judicial Council issued an order to reduce jail populations statewide to prevent the spread of coronavirus among inmates. The order reduces bail to zero dollars for those awaiting trial for most misdemeanors and felonies that, by California law, are not considered violent. 

As of Monday, there has yet to be a single coronavirus case in the SLO County Jail. Neither inmates, nor any jail staff have thus far contracted the virus.

Still, inmates who are awaiting trial could be eligible for release under the judicial council ruling. District Attorney Dan Dow said there may be 30 individuals in SLO County eligible for immediate release.

Prosecutors are opposing the early releases in a series of three sets of San Luis Obispo court hearings taking place Monday and Tuesday. The hearings began Monday afternoon and have continued in the morning and afternoon on Tuesday. 

Both Dow and Sheriff Ian Parkinson criticized the judicial order at SLO County’s coronavirus press conference on Monday.

“Here in our community people that have abused children, people that have abused the elderly or those who are in custody currently facing charges of trafficking heroin and methamphetamine around our schools are eligible for release,” Dow said. 

Parkinson said the judicial order compounds the effects of California state prisons having already released about 3,500 inmates. Parkinson released a statement saying he strongly disagrees with the order but has an obligation to enforce it.

“Although the sheriff’s office is obligated to enforce this new rule, it strongly disagrees with that decision,” Parkinson said. “I believe this rule has the potential to reduce the safety and security of not only our local communities and neighborhoods but all across the state.”

Following the issuance of SLO County’s shelter-at-home order last month, the sheriff’s office increased the number of deputies on patrol to 75 percent above the normal deployment level. Additionally, the sheriff’s office says it has the capacity to further increase the number of deputies on patrol if needed.

The sheriff’s office also stated in a news release it has taken aggressive safety measures to protect the health of inmates and county jail staff. 

“It is our belief that some of the inmates who will be released will be at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 in public than they would have been had they remained in custody at the county jail.”

Last week, a California Men’s Colony inmate tested positive for the virus.

In Santa Barbara County, an outbreak has occurred at the United States Penitentiary Lompoc. At least 69 Lompoc prison inmates and 17 prison staffers have contracted the coronavirus, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.