Urgent Public Health Action to Prevent COVID-19 in the Jails

(Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)


As concern over the Coronavirus pandemic continues to escalate in our state and the County, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas authored a motion with Supervisor Kuehl calling for the Los Angeles County Health Officer to conduct an immediate assessment of the County’s jails for the purpose of identifying  all the necessary and appropriate measures to protect individuals and staff inside, and to make and implement any orders necessary for that purpose. Given the urgency of the situation, Supervisor Barger, in her role as Chair of the Board of Supervisors, signed an Executive Order today directing implementation of the directives in the motion; the entire Board will ratify the motion when it meets again on March 31, 2020.

The motion – and resulting executive order – directs County Counsel to work with the Sheriff’s Department and health agencies to urgently 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 reduce the population in the jails, while upholding public safety, and protect those most vulnerable, including the elderly, pregnant women and those with underlying health issues.

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.

As the residents of California heed Governor Newsom’s order to ‘stay at home’ and social distancing and self-isolation have now become part of the fabric of our daily lives, we must look after the safety and health of those most vulnerable. This includes those inside the jails, who, due to the high volume of people and cramped quarters, are unable to socially isolate and practice the hygiene techniques needed to minimize the spread.

In addition to this effort, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas joined Supervisor 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—including the youth justice system.

Since we don’t know when COVID-19 will appear in the County’s justice system, we must be ready now to implement these actions. Preventing COVID-19 from spreading inside the Los Angeles County’s justice system is an essential part of the Countywide strategy to keep the virus at bay.