Coronavirus: Santa Clara County jail infections keep soaring as officials ponder another batch release

On the heels of a big outbreak to start the year, Santa Clara County jails have recorded an even larger surge in COVID-19 infections over the past week, hitting an all-time peak and spurring prosecutors, public defenders and judges to consider a batch release of inmates akin to rapid jail-population-reduction efforts at the start of the pandemic.

MILPITAS – APRIL 23: Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas, Calif., on Thursday, April 23, 2020. (Randy Vazquez / Bay Area News Group) 

On Wednesday afternoon, the sheriff’s office reported 109 active COVID-19 cases in the county jails, predominantly in the men’s jail at the Elmwood Correctional Complex in Milpitas. But that is a shifting figure affected by people both coming into and coming out of infection; raw data shows that nearly 120 new cases have surfaced since Jan. 5, accounting for 25% of the 480 jail infections recorded since March.

The new year has also been marked by two of the jails’ highest single-day new infection totals of the pandemic: 35 on Jan. 2 and 36 on Jan. 4. The fourth highest one-day count, 22, was recorded Tuesday.

“It simply isn’t safe to congregate large numbers of people in custodial facilities, particularly as the virus appears to be more easily transmitted and the positivity rate is higher than ever,” said county Public Defender Molly O’Neal.

O’Neal said she has been working with the District Attorney’s Office to renew the discussions and negotiations that led to an accelerated de-population of the county jails during the first few months of the pandemic, bringing the daily jail census down from about 3,200 to hovering around 2,200 currently.

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That came by forging agreements with the courts, probation and pretrial services officers to expand jail amnesty and electronic monitoring options to people arrested on suspicion of misdemeanors and low-level felonies, and sentencing breaks to those who were within a few weeks of their release dates. Since then, the county courts have extended $0 bail relief for low-offense arrestees to maintain distancing capacity in Elmwood and the Main Jail in San Jose.

“We believe we can safely release a number of individuals like this,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said, “to try to give the jail the physical capacity it needs to isolate, quarantine and keep the outbreak from getting worse.”

It’s unlikely that the new efforts to release inmates either early or to keep them from being admitted into jail outright will result in another 1,000-person drop in the jail census, in part because so many eligible inmates were released in the first wave and because of what O’Neal said was constant pressure from her office and other defense attorneys to secure $0 bail or monitored release from judges.

But the conditions inside the jails remain dire, according to inmates, their family members, and even jail staff who spoke in confidence to this news organization for fear of official retaliation.

In Elmwood, multiple men’s dorms have been cleared out with people being relocated to other parts of …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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