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Sheriff Maintains He's Released All The Inmates He Safely Can In Fighting COVID-19

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A screenshot of Thursday's Civilian Oversight Commission meeting. (Facebook Live screenshot)
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In a rare appearance before the Civilian Oversight Commission on Thursday, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he's released all the jail inmates he safely can in the fight against COVID-19.

There are currently 56 positive cases among a jail population of nearly 15,000, the sheriff told the panel.

Commissioners asked Villanueva what he’s doing to provide early release to more of those still awaiting trial.

He maintained the department has already released everyone it can, including those charged with low-level offenses who are medically vulnerable.

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“It can’t be just based solely on what their medical condition [and] vulnerability is,” Villanueva said. “We have to factor in, what is a threat to the community?”

When inmates do leave the system, the sheriff’s department is not giving them a COVID-19 test on their way out the door.

“Individuals are released when their sentence is expired or at the order of the court, or charges are dropped, etc., and so that can’t be predicated on testing and holding them before we release them,” said Assistant Sheriff Bruce Chase.

Some medical experts worry releasing incarcerated people without a test can lead to further spread of the virus.

More than 4,000 people in the jails have tested positive since the pandemic began. So far, 12 inmates with COVID-19 have died.

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This was only the second Civilian Oversight Commission meeting Villanueva has attended since July, 2019.

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