Responding to coronavirus concerns, the sheriff's department has taken active steps to reduce the inmate population at jail facilities, essentially releasing people with less than 30 days left on their sentences, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Monday.
"We're protecting that population from potential exposure," he said. "This is about being prepared, not scared."
Since Feb. 28, inmate levels have dropped from 17,076 in custody to 16,459 -- a reduction of more than 600. Villanueva said many of those people were freed because they had less than 30 days left on their sentence. He also said deputies have been instructed to cite and release people in select circumstances.
He stressed that no one in the jails has tested positive for coronavirus, although 35 inmates are under quarantine at various jail facilities -- nine at the Correctional Treatment Center, 21 at the Men's Central Jail and five at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility.
The sheriff's department is also asking cities that contract its services to hold on to arrestees for up to 48 hours -- right up until the point of arraignment -- and to coordinate to find a suitable alternative if a suspect is exhibiting symptoms, Villanueva said.
People who are brought to the county jail are being heat-scanned. Villanueva said he has directed deputies to cite and release "everyone they can," adding anyone showing viral symptoms must receive medical clearance before they can be booked into a correctional facility.
"They're doing their best," he said, adding the average number of arrests have dropped from 300 to just 60 per day. "They're doing a good job of triaging who needs to be arrested and not."
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The sheriff's department has canceled vacations for staffers through April, issued new safety equipment and unfroze some funds, in order to make more sanitation items available.
Non-essential employees are being tasked with custody and patrol duties, as the county's deputies step up patrols around shopping centers and distribution hubs -- in a response to the concern about food shortages among the general population that has emptied grocery aisles across the Southland.
Despite the sweeping action, the department has a very small number of employees in self-quarantine and no large increase in sick calls.
However, station lobbies won't be closing any time soon, Villanueva pledged.
"We want them to remain open for a variety of reasons," he said, adding that visitation, and other services, will still be an option. "Just notify us ahead of time."