Orange County, California, Sheriff Don Barnes said Tuesday that he will not release 1,800 prisoners into the community despite a court order that says he must do so to prevent COVID-19 infection.
“I think they present a serious threat,” Barnes said on “Fox & Friends.” “The only inmates remaining now are serious offenders and to order the release of 1,800 inmates, 700 of which would be medically vulnerable, I think is absurd.” (RELATED: Pennsylvania Sheriff Switches Party Loyalty To GOP Over Democratic Lockdowns, ‘Socialist Agenda’)
Orange County Civil Court Judge Peter Wilson ordered Barnes to release the 1,800 inmates Tuesday, supporting a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union that argued the prison was overcrowded and ideally suited for spreading coronavirus.
The judge said the jail does not allow for standard social distancing.
But Barnes said the judge imposed an unjust order.
“Of the medically vulnerable, 90 of them are in custody for murder or attempted murder, 94 for child molestation. It’s an incredible order he placed on me and I have no intention of doing that — of releasing these individuals back into the community,” Barnes argued.
Some California prisoners have been caught deliberating infecting themselves with coronavirus in the hope of being released early from their incarceration.
Authorities have released prisoners across America with proponents of the practice arguing that detention centers are a prime source of COVID-19 infection and removing those detained reduces the overall risk to public health.
The sheriff said the judge’s order isn’t properly considering “the threat to the public.” Barnes said he is authorized under California law “to release anybody” from jail whom he deems at risk and has released 1,400 low-level inmates since March.
Barnes said he plans to appeal the judges decision and hopes to “to overturn or at least stay the order.”
“I think the judge looked at this as if the inmates were the innocent people — who are being subjected to, you know, the risk of COVID. Everybody in the community is at the risk of COVID right now: we have a surge that’s happening throughout the nation,” Barnes said, calling that attitude “not only absurd [but one that] “places the community at significant risk of being victims of crime. Many of them very violent crimes.” (RELATED: Sheriff Joining Republican Party Because Democratic Leadership Has Condoned ‘101 Days Of Rioting’)
In response to the judge’s accusation that he “violated the Constitution,” Barnes disagreed.
“I think he got a lot of his facts incorrect. We have been testing inmates. We have been so far ahead of the curve when it came to best practice within our jails. We mitigated our COVID crisis down from 220 in March down to zero as of last Monday,” Barnes said.
Riverside County, California, Sheriff Chad Bianco has also been critical of state coronavirus policies. He recently chastised Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom for his lockdown restrictions that include a stay-at-home order linked with intensive care unit capacity. Bianco also criticized the governor’s threat to withhold state funding from counties that ignored previous lockdown orders.