SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A California judge on Friday ordered a 50 percent reduction of the population in Orange County jails to protect incarcerated people from a major coronavirus outbreak.
Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson's decision comes in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union that claimed conditions at the jails violate the state's constitution and disability discrimination law.
Wilson ordered the county reduce by half the population of inmates in all congregate living areas, including all dormitory housing and multiperson cells.
The county was ordered to file a plan with the court no later than Dec. 31. The plan must ensure social distancing “until the current COVID-19 emergency is declared terminated,” the judge wrote.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said his department was “evaluating the order, its impacts and our options for appeal.”
If the order stands, it could result in the release of more than 1,800 inmates, Barnes said in a statement Friday afternoon.
"Many of these inmates are in pre-trial status for, or have been convicted of, violent crimes and will be released back into the community. This order puts our community at substantial risk and does not take into account the impact on the victims of these crimes,” the sheriff's statement said.
Barnes announced Thursday that in the latest COVID-19 outbreak at Orange County jails there were 74 confirmed cases, 75 tests pending and more inmates waiting to be tested.
The ACLU said Wilson’s decision builds off of a similar ruling issued by a state appeals court in October that ordered San Quentin State Prison to reduce its population by 50 percent over virus concerns.
“The court’s decision to alleviate the pressure on the jail by depopulating will help prevent the medical infrastructure — in the jail and in the surrounding community — from becoming totally overwhelmed,” the ACLU's Daisy Ramirez said in a statement Friday. “This order recognizes that we must not forget the humanity of incarcerated people, and they should not be put in mortal danger.”