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Sheriff's Department Limits Jail Visits; ACLU Wants Some Inmates Let Out

The Los Angeles County Twin Towers Correctional facility in downtown Los Angeles. (Andrew Cullen for LAist)
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The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department announced today that they are suspending visits to jail inmates, with an exception for attorneys and professionals representing their clients. The move came after the limitations were recommended by the Los Angeles County Correctional Health Services to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

Inmates are especially susceptible to the virus because they live in close quarters, may have poor health and may receive inadequate health care, inmates advocates say.

The civil liberties group, ACLU of Southern California, is asking the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to decrease the number of inmates in the jails in an effort to tackle a potential outbreak.

They also want them to provide free soap to inmates, which inmates usually have to purchase.

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“We see it as a public health issue,” said Jacob Reisberg, ACLU of Southern California’s jail conditions advocate. “It is almost inevitable that it will be transferred to the public outside because of the fact people are constantly circulating in and out of jail.”

The Sheriff’s Department says no inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, but it’s working with the L.A. County Department of Health Services to prepare for a potential outbreak.

Here's what the ACLU is asking for:

  • Early release for vulnerable inmates — including the elderly and people with underlying health problems — who don’t pose a physical safety risk to the public
  • Release or bail instead of jail for people who commit minor crimes
  • Free soap and access to warm water for all inmates
  • Virus screening for staff and information about how the jails will operate if staff is infected with the virus

The ACLU offered to meet with Sheriff Villanueva to go over in detail their request, which they laid out in a letter this week.
The Sheriff’s Department has not yet responded to a request for comment from LAist on the ACLU letter.

The ACLU is also asking L.A. District Attorney Jackie Lacey, judges and public defenders to consider bail rather than bail for elderly, pregnant and other vulnerable offenders.

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Read the ACLU's letter to Sheriff Villanueva: