San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju is calling on the Sheriff's Department to release "as many individuals from the jail as possible" after an inmate at SF County Jail has turned up COVID-positive.
"While we knew it was nearly inevitable the virus would make its way into the jail, I am still deeply concerned to learn today that an incarcerated person in the San Francisco County Jail system tested positive for coronavirus," Raju said in a statement. "This is the exact scenario my team has fought day in and day out to avoid by reducing the jail population. That this confirmed case comes after a substantial jail population reduction demonstrates why we have not been content to rest on the tremendous work done thus far, and why we continue to fight for people to be released."
As KPIX reports, according to District Attorney Chesa Boudin, the San Francisco jail population was reduced by almost 25 percent in March, with around 260 offenders set free to reduce crowding. But upwards of 800 people remained incarcerated in SF jails as of late March, and it's unclear if that number has decreased in the last two weeks.
Raju says that the news of the first COVID-19 case at the city's jail, combined with the statewide emergency bail measure being implemented this week — which reduces bail to $0 for most low-level felonies — means that San Francisco "should completely cease arresting and booking people on misdemeanors and low-level felonies." Raju is advocating for a cite-and-release policy for all these offenses.
"This is a do-or-die situation, requiring aggressive and urgent action across all our city departments," Raju says. "We cannot afford to be reckless with the lives of anyone in our community — especially those most at risk and least able to protect themselves."
These prisoner releases have not all gone over well across the state of California. In Tulare County, the district attorney filed over 100 motions opposing bail reductions for inmates this week.
And last week, after a judge in Alameda County indicated that Ghost Ship defendant Derick Almena might be a candidate for court-monitored release, she decided against a weekend release and then indicated she would may just reduce his bail to $150,000.
The SF Sheriff's Office has yet to issue a statement regarding the infected inmate, and no details about the case or which facility the inmate was in have been provided either.