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Zero-bail inmate releases underway at local jails

Posted at 1:21 PM, Apr 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-14 21:51:50-04

Hundreds of incarcerated people across California are being released after the Judicial Council of California issued an emergency order aimed at reducing jail populations in light of the pandemic.

The ruling that sets bail at $0 for most misdemeanor and low-level offenders who have not yet been sentenced for their crimes took effect at 5 p.m. Monday.

Inmate releases began Tuesday morning in San Luis Obispo County.

Initially, the SLO County Jail determined about 60 inmates may be eligible for release under the state order.

Those cases were then forwarded to the public defender's office, probation and the district attorney's office for review.

SLO County District Attorney Dan Dow says they reduced the eligible list to 32 in a fight for justice and safety.

"Of the total 32, we are litigating 23. There were four hearings [Monday]," Dow said. "Of the four hearings that happened, we were successful in three. One was let out and that's a person that's charged with embezzlement of millions of dollars."

Plus, as of Tuesday morning, nine inmates convicted of less serious crimes in SLO County, like drug possession and petty theft, were able to go.

Dow's office is looking at the eligible inmates' full rap-sheets when considering whether to appeal their release.

"A number of the people that were eligible for zero bail had multiple convictions for violent crimes in their past," Dow told KSBY.

Sheriff Ian Parkinson says some of the eligible in his jail include people convicted of vehicle theft and assault with a deadly weapon without great bodily harm.

"Putting people back out on the street that we don't feel are suitable is difficult," Parkinson said.

Parkinson and Dow share concerns about a rise in recidivism following this statewide release of inmates and the possibility of criminals catching the virus while out on zero bail, then spreading it in the jails when they are re-booked.

The sheriff says his staff as worked hard to keep their jail healthy and safe.

Before the order, the SLO County Jail deemed three inmates as high-risk if they were to contract COVID-19 and released them under special conditions.

"We have put in a number of safety practices and health practices designed to prevent that and we have not had a case yet and we deal with this type of thing really every year during flu season," Parkinson said.

"Quite frankly, for people that may not have a healthy environment to return to, the jail is probably more safe for them," Dow added.

Meanwhile, more deputies have been patrolling since the shelter at home order took effect in March.

"Added increase of about 75 percent more deputies in a 24 hour period than we do ordinarily," Parkinson said. "We understand the concern and that's what we are addressing."

In Santa Barbara County, the jail initially determined 93 people may be eligible for release under the Judicial Council's order.

However, the probation department and district attorney's office whittled that number down to about 60 cases upon further review.

Deputy District Attorney John Savrnoch said his staff filed 15 oppositions to release inmates with zero bail. Only two of the 15 inmates they opposed were released.

Those two were included of the 46 total inmates ordered to be released, in compliance with the state order.

According to Savrnoch, the inmates who have been released are required to comply with certain conditions established by the probation department.

Jails across California have been working to reduce their population since the coronavirus outbreak began, primarily by releasing inmates whose sentences were already almost complete.