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Up to 17,600 California prison inmates will get early releases by the end of August due to the coronavirus.

That’s more than twice as many as the first estimate from state prison officials.

And, as of this week, the state had released more than 300 inmates known to be infected, state officials say. That’s because once an inmate reaches his or her regular parole date, they must be released — even if they are infected.

It’s a chaotic situation. One that is receiving varying degrees of criticism and concern from Central Valley sheriffs.

Violent Offenders Released Early

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims told GV Wire℠  that serious and violent offenders will be released without adequate supervision.

The Merced County Sheriff’s Office worries about the health of the inmates.

And, Kings County Sheriff David Robinson says he’s already having to make difficult decisions that he doesn’t like.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced the inmate reduction plan in mid-July when with the intent to release 8,000 inmates because of the virus spread in prisons.

“These actions are taken to provide for the health and safety of the incarcerated population and staff,” CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz said. “We aim to implement these decompression measures in a way that aligns both public health and public safety.”

Fresno County Sheriff’s Office

Mims answered GV Wire℠’s questions about the early inmate releases via email.

Portrait of Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims

— Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims

GV Wire℠: How would this impact the number of people going out of our jails here?

Mims: “Currently we have over 300 state sentenced inmates in the Fresno County jail awaiting transport to prison.  CDCR has stopped accepting these sentenced inmates from local jails in California.  Even though the County is paid a daily rate by the State, it does not include any medical care.  Additionally, the room they are taking up prohibits the Sheriff’s Office from having adequate beds available for local arrestees.”

Are there concerns about the inmates that will be released?

Mims: “Yes, there are very serious and violent offenders that will be released and this is happening so fast there is a lack of adequate preparation to be able to supervise, house, and find potential job opportunities for the released inmates.  This does not provide any justice to victims of their crimes.”

Is there a good system in place to track them?

Mims: “The system that is in place to track these inmates is already overwhelmed.  The increase in caseload started with realignment in 2011 and it takes time to hire adequate personnel to properly track and supervise the released inmates.  Some of the inmates may be COVID-19 positive and there is no way to force them to remain in the place they are released to during a quarantine period.”

Merced County Sheriff’s Office

Merced Sheriff’s Deputy Daryl Allen tells GV Wire℠ by phone that many of the inmates set for early release are highly likely to wind up right back in jail after just a few days.

Allen says even if the released inmate is wearing an ankle bracelet, keeping track of them is a big issue due to staffing levels.

He also says most people don’t realize how many services these inmates are receiving. Under the early release program, probation officials now have days instead of months to prepare re-entry plans that include housing, transportation, drug or behavioral treatment, healthcare, and training or a job.

“Some of these inmates that we have in here are getting healthcare, and drug programs within the jail. So in releasing them, who is going to say they are going to keep getting the healthcare they need?” Allen said.

Kings County Sheriff’s Office

“Overall we didn’t have a lot of inmates on that list,” Sheriff David Robinson tells GV Wire℠ by phone. “Whether I agree or disagree with what the State of California is doing, I can’t wrap my head around it.”

Portrait of Kings County Sheriff David Robinson

— Kings County Sheriff David Robinson

Robinson said he doesn’t want to be overly critical of what the state is doing because his office has had to make difficult decisions, too.

“Do I like it as a law enforcement officer and a sheriff? Absolutely not, it’s frustrating,” said Robinson. But during the pandemic, he said, many people in society are having to do things that may otherwise be uncomfortable.

For example, prior to the pandemic, Robinson’s office had only been releasing inmates with a bail amount of under $10,000. Now, it’s up to $25,000. He’s had to increase releases to allow for extra space within the jail.

New inmates are automatically isolated for 13-14 days in case they might have COVID-19. Robinson’s only had a few inmates test positive since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Kings County Jail can hold up to 613 inmates. Today, the inmate population is 509.

He doesn’t know how exactly how many inmates the state will need him to release by the end of August. Robinson said he gets an email once or twice a week from the CDCR telling him how many inmates he needs to release, usually one or two a day.

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