Board of Supervisors Ratifies Executive Order Directing Public Health Action to Prevent COVID-19 in the Jails

Getty Images

Following the first recently confirmed COVID-19 cases connected to the County jails, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion authored by Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl ratifying an Executive Order which called for the Los Angeles County Health Officer to conduct an immediate assessment of the County’s jails for the purpose of identifying  all necessary and appropriate measures to protect individuals and staff inside, and to make and implement any orders necessary for that purpose. The County justice partners have recently reduced the jail population by approximately 3,000 individuals in the last month as a COVID-19 prevention strategy, but public health recommendations could allow the County to go further.

Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl began calling for this public health action ten days ago. Given the urgency of the situation, on March 23, Supervisor Barger, in her role as Chair of the Board, signed the above-mentioned Executive Order directing implementation of the directives in the motion.

“Successfully containing the coronavirus within the jail system is an essential component to limiting its spread throughout the County, and is more urgent than ever before,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “The Health Officer’s recommendations will bring a much-needed public health perspective to challenges in the jails, as well as provide new tools to further protect the most vulnerable. The thousands of individuals incarcerated in the County’s jails, and the thousands more staff that work with them, deserve the same public health protections as the general public.”

The Executive Order – and motion that ratified it directs County Counsel to work with the Sheriff’s Department and health agencies to swiftly implement any recommendations or orders of the County Health Officer, including, if appropriate, action available to the Sheriff. The goal is to give the County and the Sheriff all tools, supports and legal options necessary to further address over-crowding in the jails, while keeping the public safe and protecting those most vulnerable, including the elderly, pregnant women and those with underlying health issues. The assessment and recommendations may provide further direction on who could be safely released from the jails, while advising on how to better protect those who cannot be released, including how to implement best practices around hygiene, cleanliness, and social distancing.

“This motion brings the public health response we’ve put into place throughout our communities into our jails,” Supervisor Kuehl said. “One of our priorities right now must be to remove people from our jails in a safe and legal way to prevent the spread of the virus inside our jails while ensuring that people are able to access the services they need once they are released.”

The motion also instructs the Chief Executive Officer to identify any resources necessary to ensure successful implementation of the recommendations identified in the directive above.

This motion is part of a broader Countywide strategy to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which includes the “Safer at Home” order, as well as other policies designed to promote social distancing and self-isolation. This latest action by the Board recognizes that better care and protection for those inside the jails is critical. Due to the large number of people living and working in cramped quarters, the County jails face challenges with practicing social distancing, enhanced hygiene, and quarantining needed to minimize the spread of the virus.

In addition, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas joined Supervisor Solis in co-authoring a motion calling for County justice and health departments, as well as the courts to do more in prevention, screening, and treatment to protect incarcerated individuals from COVID-19; this includes those under the care of the juvenile justice system and Probation Department. Currently, just over 700 youth are detained in the juvenile halls and probation camps, and this motion calls for additional efforts to safely release and care for these young people given the threat of COVID-19.