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ACLU Asks For More Information As COVID-19 Numbers Surge In County Jails

The San Diego Central Jail on Front Street, August 7, 2018.

Photo by Claire Trageser

Above: The San Diego Central Jail on Front Street, August 7, 2018.

COVID-19 has changed daily life in San Diego, shutting down restaurant dining, closing theaters, and limiting capacity in stores. But San Diego jails remain near full, despite several outbreaks at facilities across the county.

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties filed a Public Records Act request, to look into exactly what’s happening inside of San Diego’s jails, and why just under 10% of the inmate population is currently infected with COVID-19

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

“The failure to reduce the populations in these jail facilities is really coming home to roost,” said Bardis Vakili, an attorney with the ACLU. “You’ve seen numbers spike and balloon in the last fourteen days in ways we have not seen in the nine months previous.”

As of Monday, according to the Sheriff’s Department, there were 396 active COVID-19 cases among inmates, in addition to119 active cases among staff.

Reported by Max Rivlin-Nadler

With just under 4,000 people currently incarcerated in county jails, and an accelerating pace of infections, the ACLU has become concerned that the influx of people from county jails to local hospitals could overwhelm an already burdened healthcare system.

“The idea that we’re placing these powder-kegs throughout the county that might go off and overload those systems, that’s where we talk about it being dangerous not only for people on the inside, but dangerous for the health workers who are working, who are already overtaxed, and dangerous for the community-at-large who are going to need those beds as well,” said Vakili.

RELATED: COVID-19 Cases Spike At San Diego County Jails And Detention Centers

According to statistics obtained by the ACLU, the jail population in San Diego has increased at almost every facility, even as the pandemic has become more severe. On July 25th, San Diego Central Jail held 614 people. But on December 5th, it held 815 people. At the same time, the total number of COVID-19 cases in San Diego County on July 25th was 508. On December 5th, it was 1,703.

The number of people being held in San Diego jails has risen even after the state lowered bail amounts for almost all non-violent offenses to zero. The Sheriff’s Department was unable to tell KPBS if it was holding anyone in jail for misdemeanor offenses.

In a statement, the Sheriff’s Department told KPBS that it always complies with public records requests, like the one from the ACLU, in the required statutory timeframe. They also said “that since the start of the pandemic, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department has been transparent about the strategies its put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our detention facilities.”

The Sheriff’s Department also pointed out that COVID-19 numbers remained low in the jails until recently, and only increased when the rest of the county has also seen a surge.

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