Some low-level, non-violent inmates facing trials and being held in San Diego County jails are being considered for release in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the county's district attorney and sheriff announced Saturday.
"In the wake of an unprecedented Superior Court closure, the San Diego County District Attorney's Office and San Diego County Sheriff's Department took several proactive steps this week to address the threat of the coronavirus to individuals arrested for low-level, non-violent crimes who normally would have been released if the court was open or can't afford to post jail," the DA and sheriff said in a joint statement.
The DA's office did not say how many inmates have already been released under the new policies nor how many are expected to be released.
District Attorney Summer Stephan said she and the sheriff were concerned about defendants who are not an imminent threat to public safety, who are unable to post bail and would be forced to wait weeks or potentially months for their first court appearance because of the court being shut down.
Cases involving people in custody are being reviewed and if no charges are going to be filed, the jail will be notified by the district attorney so the person can be released, the statement said.
"If charges are going to be filed, the district attorney is working with the sheriff and the court on an electronic pre-arraignment review to identify individuals whose charges are eligible for immediate release or bail reduction," a news advisory said.
"We're taking these steps because it's the right thing to do in the face of extreme circumstances that pose a serious health risk to inmates and everyone who has contact with inmates...'' Stephan said.
Other actions the district attorney said are being taken include:
- Identifying those in jail who are awaiting trial or sentencing and may be eligible for release
- Prioritizing the release of vulnerable inmates who are "medically fragile" to determine if it is appropriate to ask the court to re-sentence them;
- Allowing some people nearing the end of their sentence to be released early.
"People aren't going to get a free pass if they commit a crime,'' Stephan said. "This is about prioritizing and making thoughtful decisions based in fairness and equity during a time of crisis in order to relieve pressure on the system while protecting the public."