San Luis Obispo Sheriff's Office | Courtesy Photo

To prevent the spread of coronavirus in the San Luis Obispo County Jail, about 30 low-level inmates may be released. 

The California Supreme Court ordered that inmates convicted of misdemeanors and low-level felonies be released from jail with $0 bail. Inmates that qualify must be approved by a judge before they are released, Public Affairs Analyst Blaine Corren said. 

The order took effect April 13 at 5 p.m., but inmates needed to go to court before being released, District Attorney Dan Dow said.

The order intends to reduce jail populations and limit the spread of the virus, a news release from the California Courts reads. 

Inmates convicted of misdemeanors qualify for immediate release. A misdemeanor is a crime that results in less than 12 months in prison. Some examples include assault, which is an act of violence that causes harm; false imprisonment, which is when a person confines or restrains the victim without consent; or perjury, which is lying in court, according to Cornell Law School.

Inmates do not qualify for release if they have committed serious or violent crimes, such as murder, rape, first degree burglary, selling illicit drugs to a minor, or any felony where the accused causes great bodily injury to the victim, according to the California Rules of Courts.

One third of these inmates went to court Monday afternoon, one third went to court Tuesday morning, and one third went to court Tuesday afternoon to have their cases reviewed for release, Dow said. 

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said 3,500 inmates have been released statewide, and more may be released later.

There are no cases of COVID-19 in the county jail, according to Parkinson.

“It is our responsibility to try to protect the inmate, and try to ensure that we do not have this enter the jail, and if we do we’re prepared for it,” Parkinson said. 

Everyone who enters the jail — employees, inmates and officers — are questioned about symptoms and have their temperature tested, Parkinson said. 

The jail also implemented a quarantine system. Incoming inmates are isolated in their own housing unit for 14 days before being released into the larger prison population, according to Parkinson.

Parkinson said he thinks the order to immediately release inmates is troubling.

“I strongly disagree with this decision, however I have an obligation to follow this decision along with other sheriffs in California,” Parkinson said. 

Since the start of the shelter-at-home order, the sheriff’s office has increased the amount of patrol cars on the streets by 75 percent, Parkinson said. 

“This obviously is not sustainable, however we are committed to doing it as long as is necessary to provide safety out on the streets,” Parkinson said. 

The District Attorney’s office asked the courts that these inmates are not released, he said.

“What this order did is remove the focus from public safety … and focuses on the inmate population, which is a major paradigm shift,” Assistant District Attorney Eric Dobroth said.

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