California Prison Inmates Caught Infecting Themselves With Coronavirus In Hopes Of Early Release

Screenshot/NBC News

Marlo Safi Culture Reporter
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Inmates at a Los Angeles County prison were caught on video deliberately trying to infect themselves with coronavirus so that they could be released from prison, the sheriff’s department said in a press release.

A video released Monday by Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva appeared to show inmates at North County Correctional Facility in Castaic drinking from the same bottle of hot water and taking turns breathing through the same mask, the press release said.

The men were trying to raise their oral temperature moments before having their temperatures taken and to spread the virus. Every inmate has their own cup and plenty of space allowing for physical distancing measures to be practiced, the sheriff’s statement says.

“As a direct result of the behavior seen in the video, 21 men tested positive for COVID-19 within a week,” the statement said.

A spike in cases in mid-April prompted officials to review surveillance video. All 21 people who tested positive were from the same module where the video was taken, where there’s a total of 50 inmates.

“Somehow there was some mistaken belief among the inmate population that if they tested positive that there was a way to force our hand and somehow release more inmates out of our jail environment — and that’s not going to happen,” Villanueva said.

None of the inmates admitted to trying to infect themselves or raise their temperatures to mislead prison staff, according to the statement. 

Some inmates were released early in March to reduce the inmate population due to concerns that overcrowding would cause rapid virus transmission. Police departments were also asked to cite rather than arrest some offenders to prevent overcrowded prisons.

The inmate population in Los Angeles County was reduced from 17,076 to 16,459 between the end of February and mid-March, according to NBC News.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom also ordered the release of high-risk sex offenders from Orange County prisons during California’s stay-at-home orders, causing the sheriff to issue a warning to the community and affirm that the releases weren’t necessary. (RELATED: California Orders Release Of 7 High-Risk Sexual Offenders, Governor Says It’s His Job To Keep State Safe)

“They are doing everything they can to avoid detection by the parole officers assigned to monitor them so they can potentially commit additional sex offenses. These are not the kind of people who should be getting a break.”