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Los Angeles sheriff releasing inmates, urging fewer arrests to help combat coronavirus

The inmate population has been decreased by more than 600, in part through early release of those with less than 30 days left on their sentences.
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The Los Angeles County sheriff has reduced the jail population by more than 600 people and is asking officers to cite and release offenders when possible to protect inmates from the coronavirus.

As of Monday morning, the inmate population had been reduced from 17,076 to 16,459 since the end of February, in part by granting early release to those with less than 30 days on their sentences.

"Our population within the jail is a vulnerable population just by virtue of who they are and where they're located," Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Monday at a news conference. "So, we're protecting that population from potential exposure."

Arrests have dropped from around 300 a day to around 60 a day, the sheriff said Monday. The aggregate bond amount for people to be booked also went up from $25,000 to $50,000, with those under that amount being cited, he said.

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There are no confirmed cases of coronavirus within the jail, but nine inmates are in isolation housing at a correctional treatment center, while 21 inmates are in quarantine at the Men's Central Jail and five are at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, he said.

Staff at the correctional treatment center and the Medical Observation Specialty Housing unit are also checking the temperatures, looking for fevers, of anyone entering, Villanueva said.

Image: Los Angeles pedestrians
Pedestrians walk past the shuttered Pantages Theatre in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles on Monday, March 16, 2020.Chris Pizzello / AP

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California tweeted that the reduction of more than 600 inmates "is a start but nowhere enough" and urged Villanueva to release anyone who would not pose a physical safety risk to the community.

There are 94 coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County, which includes Los Angeles and such cities as Compton, Beverly Hills and Long Beach, according to the county Public Health Department. One death has been reported, and 15 cases are being called likely instances of community transmission.

The sheriff spoke about preparations at the jail and the department a day after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered the closing of gyms, bars and nightclubs, as well as restrictions prohibiting in-restaurant dining, until at least March 31. Takeout and deliveries are still allowed, and places like grocery stores will remain open.

In the northern part of the state, San Francisco and surrounding counties told residents Monday to stay home "except for essential needs" beginning at midnight.

The Los Angeles County sheriff said all vacations have been canceled for staff through the end of April.

"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."

Patrol station lobbies will remain open for people who need to conduct supervised visits or custody exchanges, but he encouraged people with reports to call ahead or make them online.