Active Covid-19 Cases in San Diego Jails Over 500

by on December 28, 2020 · 0 comments

in Health, San Diego

The San Diego Sheriff’s Department reports that there are more than 400 active cases of the coronavirus among its inmates — or 11% of the total jail population, plus hundreds of staff members have also been infected.

Critics of how the Sheriff’s Department is handling outbreaks at its facilities include inmates, deputies and the head of the union that represents jail workers. And sheriffs are still arresting people for minor crimes and bringing them into the jails.

The total number of COVID-19 cases has exceeded 1,000, which includes more than 500 active infections among inmates and employees, according to data on the Sheriff’s Department website.

There’s been a total of 757 inmates infected with the virus so far in 2020. This includes 414 active cases. Another 114 inmates have been placed into isolation.

Among deputies and staff, the number of cumulative positive cases is 316, including 134 active infections. 181 employees had recovered from the virus and one person had died. These are figures either reported by the department or figured out by the San Diego Union-Tribune .

Conditions inside the jails are becoming intolerable, according to some inmates contacted by the San Diego Union-Tribune. The U-T quoted one inmate who told them, “It’s horrible — horrible. We are on 24-hour lockdown. We get out for 15 minutes a day, when we can take a shower or use the phone.” The unidentified inmate said mail deliveries and television privileges had been suspended and that many members of the kitchen staff had been sent home. The inmates have been eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for weeks. “We are hostages,” he said.

One deputy told the U-T jail commanders expose employees and inmates to the virus unnecessarily.  “They have upped the protocols, but [they are] still moving inmates around, which we can’t understand,” said the deputy, who requested to remain unidentified because they were not authorized to speak to reporters. “It’s the detentions’ upper command,” the deputy added, referring to the department’s Detention Services Bureau, which operates the county’s seven jails. “Big-time disconnect. Useless!”

When the pandemic first began, the Sheriff’s Department coordinated with judges and lawyers to limit the jail population, which dropped from about 5,500 early this year to fewer than 3,800. But according to the U-T, “… the structured release of inmates suspected of committing low-level offenses has largely stalled. The jail population Thursday was just over 3,750, and deputies continue to book offenders on relatively minor charges.”

“In a 24-hour period from Monday to Tuesday, for example, the Sheriff’s Department booked 11 people into custody, each on a single charge of being drunk in public, records show.”

Leaders of Service Employees International Union local 221, which represents jail nurses and counselors, said Sheriff Bill Gore’s response was inadequate and continues to place public health at risk.  David Garcias, president of the local 221, told the U-T:

“This is the outcome of critically low levels of understaffing medical services and subordinating the judgment of healthcare professionals to command staff. The county should put COVID-19 response and containment in the jails under the Health and Human Services Agency. The sheriff’s negligence in this case shows he is unfit for command.”

Over the weekend, Gore actually withdrew his proposal to outsource medical and mental-health services to jail inmates.

The U-T also reported “The Sheriff’s Department has a history of not detailing which facilities have the most cases,” and that “Part of the department response … included moving some inmates to other jails — at least one of which also experienced a wave of new cases.”

According to data obtained by KPBS and reported earlier this week, the outbreak at the George Bailey jail was the worst in San Diego County last month. The facility recorded no fewer than 149 cases in November. The Vista Detention Center recorded the fourth-highest number of coronavirus cases last month at 81.

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