All Hands on Deck: Preventing COVID-19 in the Justice System

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Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has joined Supervisor Hilda Solis in co-authoring a motion calling for County justice departments and the courts to do more in prevention, screening, and treatment to protect incarcerated individuals from COVID-19.

As the novel coronavirus sweeps the County, this is an effort to slow the spread and protect thousands of incarcerated youth and adults countywide, which are one of the most vulnerable and susceptible populations to COVID-19.

The motion also looks to break the cycle of incarceration and homelessness when individuals are released, to further ensure their safety and well-being in the midst of the virus.

Jails and locked juvenile facilities are of particular concern for the spread of the virus because they consist of crowded, and often unsanitary quarters with a large number of people living and sleeping in close proximity, with limited ability to employ strategies such as social distancing. Also, a significant number of incarcerated individuals are in poor health, and this makes them very vulnerable to COVID-19.  Since there is no vaccine for COVID-19, our number one priority should be to protect the most vulnerable populations and prevent widespread.

The County’s justice partners have already taken important steps to address this issue, but we know that more is urgently needed to protect those in the County’s custody as well as thousands of County employees that work in the jails, probation camps, and juvenile halls each day. We are asking for enhanced efforts to:

  • Reduce overcrowding and lower the populations in the jails, juvenile halls, and probation camps to prevent the spread of the virus and ensure adequate space for quarantining or isolating individuals who are symptomatic.
  • Protect those who are most vulnerable to the virus, including pregnant women and girls, the elderly, and those with underlying health issues.
  • Reduce the introduction of new individuals into the jail and juvenile facilities to prevent COVID-19 from entering these facilities.
  • Prevent those who are released from the jails, juvenile halls or camps from becoming homeless upon release.
  • Provide increased handwashing, hygiene, and cleaning supplies, and policies to support best practices in personal and institutional hygiene, to increase prevention.
  • Ensure effective screening of new admissions and staff entering the facilities and plans to ensure appropriate staffing levels and treatment should individuals become infected.

County departments and the courts have already made important strides in the above areas, exhibiting leadership and sound judgment. Over the past two weeks as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases countywide have sharply risen, the jail population has been reduced by 1,000 inmates and daily arrest rates in the County fell from its usual trend of 300 to 60, thus helping address overcrowding. Additionally, the County’s health leaders have developed protocols for testing, screening, and isolation in our justice system.

However, it’s not a matter of if, but when our incarcerated population will be affected by the epidemic, and once this happens, it will not stay contained in the jails. Therefore, we must be prepared and continue to do all we can to ensure the safety and well-being of individuals in the County’s custody, as well as the many staff members and communities they both go home to – we can’t let our guard down.

In this moment of crisis, our role is to mount a comprehensive response that not only contains COVID-19 but prioritizes the health and well-being of County residents, especially the most vulnerable and that includes our justice-involved populations.

I believe these steps will help us better manage this crisis. It’s all hands on deck.