Los Angeles County releasing hundreds of prisoners due to coronavirus fears

The practice of “social distancing” can be especially difficult, if not utterly impossible, when you’re incarcerated.

As such, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is releasing hundreds of inmates — and making fewer arrests — in order to mitigate the spread of the deadly coronavirus through prison populations, the Washington Examiner reports. The outbreak of COVID-19 has prisons all around the country scrambling to respond.

“Our population within the jail is a vulnerable population just by virtue of who they are and where they’re located,” Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Monday during a press conference, according to the Examiner. “So we’re protecting that population from potential exposure.”

Hundreds of prisoners released

In just weeks, the deadly disease known as COVID-19 has upended life for millions of Americans while raising questions about living with the reality of overburdened and understaffed institutions. How will hospitals take care of their regular patients when the coronavirus wave peaks? Who patrols the streets when the cops get sick? And what do you do with prisoners during a dangerous pandemic?

In Los Angeles County in California, authorities are already taking extraordinary steps to reduce the public health threat. The prison population in the city has dropped from 17,076 to 16,459, by about 600, as of Monday, NBC News reported. The drop is mostly from inmates with sentences of less than 30 days who have been given early release.

The number of arrests per day has also dropped from 300 to 60, as police are asked to give citations whenever possible, Villanueva said. No prisoners in Los Angeles County jails are known to be infected, Villanueva said, according to Fox, but inmates at several facilities are either in quarantine or isolated, and temperatures are being checked, NBC noted.

“Over the weekend, we’ve had several of our personnel come into contact, and they have been self-isolated,” Villanueva said. “However, fortunately, no one has actually tested positive for the virus.”

America’s prisons grapple with COVID-19

California has cracked down on COVID-19 with some of the most drastic measures in the whole country, especially in San Francisco, where 7 million people have been ordered to “shelter in place” and only leave home for “essential” reasons. The state banned most prison visits last week.

In Southern California, restrictions are less strict but nevertheless dramatic. Los Angeles has closed all bars and restaurants except for take-out.

As measures like these take effect — part of a nationwide campaign to promote “social distancing” — prisons are scrambling to figure out how to prevent the virus from spreading in their facilities. Los Angeles County isn’t the only jurisdiction releasing prisoners early, as jails from Sacramento to Ohio are taking similar precautions.

Meanwhile, California must figure out how to help another vulnerable group, namely those without any place to stay. The state is racing to provide shelter and build handwashing stations, among other measures, to mitigate the risk to its massive homeless population of more than 151,000 — more than half the homeless in the whole country, Fox reports. Notoriously filthy and crowded streets in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, where tent settlements are part of the cityscape, are sure to challenge containment efforts.

This all raises the question of how much more of this virus can the system take before it implodes? How many prisoners is too many?

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