December 16, 2020

On Dec. 11, 2020, the Orange County Superior Court ordered OC jails to decrease their populations by 50% to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection and additional outbreaks. The county was ordered to file a proposal on how systems will be in place to reduce the population by Dec. 31, 2020. “The court also ordered the jail to continue to take all necessary measures to ensure social distancing ‘until the current COVID-19 emergency is declared terminated.’”

Sheriff Don Barnes admitted in a filing shortly before the order that there had been another outbreak in the OC jail population. Even though “[j]ust last week, the county told Judge Wilson that such an outbreak would be impossible at the jail, that nowhere in Orange County was safer from COVID than the jail, and compared the jail to New Zealand.”

“‘This victory belongs to the incarcerated people who had the courage to speak out about Sheriff Barnes’ failed response to COVID-19,’ said Daisy Ramirez, jails conditions & policy coordinator at the ACLU SoCal.”

This order has major headline shock value, but understand the people that will be released are the most vulnerable. People with underlying conditions or have increased risk of exposure due to age will be prioritized for release. Social distancing is a cornerstone of combatting a social disease, especially one where no cure is widely available. With the amount of inmates currently, social distancing is impossible. This order is very important to protect all people from further infection.

There is hope this new “order will save lives” according to Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project.