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OC DA criticizes judge’s order to cut jail population in half

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer on Saturday sharply criticized a court ruling requiring the local jail population be cut in half to combat a coronavirus outbreak, worrying a large-scale release of inmates could result in a rise in crime.

Spitzer said the ruling – which sheriff officials estimate would result in the release of more than 1,800 inmates – would allow “dangerous and violent criminals back into our neighborhoods to commit more crimes and victimize more people.”

“Nothing, not even a pandemic, suspends the rule of law,” Spitzer said in a statement. “The solution is simple: don’t break the law and you won’t end up in jail.”

The order by Judge Peter Wilson followed concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union that Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes wasn’t doing enough to protect medically vulnerable inmates, as well as a resurgence of coronavirus cases in local lockup. The ACLU said the order would alleviate the pressure on medical infrastructure within the jail, preventing it from becoming overwhelmed.

Spitzer has previously opposed other efforts to reduce the jail population in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, including a temporary zero bail order for low-level crimes and the early release of some inmates.

On Saturday, Spitzer contended that based on statistics his office has collected, 44% of the early release inmates have committed new crimes, while 38 percent of those who fell under zero bail re-offended. Collectively, that is nearly triple the normal recidivism rates, the DA said.

“Throwing open the jail doors and releasing dangerous and violent inmates back into our communities where they will no doubt continue to commit new crimes is not the answer,” Spitzer said. “It is not in the interest of the criminal justice system, it is not in the interest of the public, and it is not in the interest of safety.”

Spitzer said he would support the sheriff appealing the jail release ruling.

The DA also said he and the sheriff have asked the governor to transfer state prisoners housed in local jails. Nearly 350 convicted defendants are being kept in the Orange County jail system, Spitzer said, and moving them to state facilities would help alleviate the strain in the county system.

Source: Orange County Register

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