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Sheriff Says Public ‘Should Be In A Panic’ Over Judge’s Order To Cut Jail Population In Half

Santa Ana, CA – An Orange County judge has ordered the sheriff’s office to release half of the county’s inmates, to include accused murderers and child molesters, according to the sheriff.

“These aren’t low-lying offenders. These are people in for very serious offenses: murder, attempted murder, domestic violence,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said of the inmates he’s been ordered to turn loose, according to WBRC.

“The public should be in a panic,” Sheriff Barnes warned. “They should be concerned about this release.”

Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson recently ordered the sheriff to cut the Orange County Jail’s inmate population by 50 percent, after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the department over allegations they weren’t doing enough to protect inmates from COVID-19, KABC reported.

In the order issued Friday, Wilson ruled that jail conditions do not allow for proper social distancing, according to KABC.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) had already released over 1,300 inmates between the start of the pandemic and the day the court order was issued, WBRC reported.

As a result, the 6,159-bed facility was already operating with a reduced population of 3,628, according to The Orange County Register.

The department must release another 1,858 inmates in order to comply with Wilson’s directive, WBRC reported.

Sheriff Barnes said that 700 inmates are currently considered to be “medically vulnerable” under the CDC’s guidelines.

Of those 700 inmates, “59 of them [are] in for murder, another 39 for attempted murder, and 90 of them in for child molestation and a litany of other violent crimes,” the sheriff said.

Wilson gave Sheriff Barnes a deadline of Dec. 31 to come up with a list of inmates he will release, according to KCBS.

Sheriff Barnes, who is appealing the order, said Wilson is going to have to be more specific about which potentially dangerous inmates he wants turned loose, WBRC reported.

“If this judge is going to order the release of individuals entrusted in my care who I believe present a significant threat to the public, he will have to identify each one of those by name and order their release pursuant to his authority, not mine,” the sheriff insisted.

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer also denounced the order, and said it would result in the release of “dangerous and violent criminals back into our neighborhoods to commit more crimes and victimize people,” KCBS reported.

“There’s no doubt it would jeopardize public safety because these are some of the worst of the worst,” Spitzer told KABC.

A total of 416 inmates tested positive for the novel coronavirus on Monday, according to KCBS.

ACLU SoCal Conditions and Police Coordinator Daisy Ramirez called Wilson’s order a “victory.”

“This victory belongs to the incarcerated people who had the courage to speak out about Sheriff Barnes’ failed response to COVID-19,” Ramirez declared in an ACLU press release. “Their resistance and leadership will save lives…This order recognized that we must not forget the humanity of incarcerated people, and they should not be put in mortal danger.”

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin


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