With COVID under control, judge dismisses suit aimed at cutting Calif. county inmate population

Orange county avoided releasing as many as 1,800 "dangerous criminal offenders," the sheriff said


By Tony Saavedra
The Orange County Register
        
ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — An Orange County Superior Court judge has dismissed an ACLU lawsuit that earlier prompted him to order that the jail population be reduced by half to fight COVID-19.

Judge Peter Wilson said Thursday the suit is no longer necessary as the county has achieved the upper hand on the spread of the infection through the jail system. COVID-19 cases, once reaching more than 1,000 at the jails, numbered just one on Thursday.

Both Sheriff Don Barnes and the American Civil Liberties Union claimed victory in the shuttered lawsuit, which sparked heated debate and a warning by the sheriff last December that as many as 1,800 dangerous criminals would be released to the streets if he complied with the court order. Barnes found other ways to control the spread of the virus, including the release of fewer inmates..

Sheriff Don Barnes gives a tour of the new Housing Unit for Military Veterans at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, Calif., on Dec. 30, 2019.
Sheriff Don Barnes gives a tour of the new Housing Unit for Military Veterans at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, Calif., on Dec. 30, 2019. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

"Navigating the pandemic presented challenges, but I am proud of the exceptional work of our personnel who continued to provide for the health and safety of inmates in our custody," Barnes said. "Most importantly, we accomplished this work without releasing dangerous criminal offenders and compromising public safety. This ruling validates the extraordinary innovation, diligence and dedication of custody personnel and Correctional Health Services staff."

The ACLU also released a statement that it had won.

"As the state case comes to a close, we are proud and thankful for the changes that have resulted from it," said Corene Kendrick, deputy director of the ACLU National Prison Project. "The court order saved lives and affirmed that people in jails matter, and was one of the strongest in the nation against a jail, prison, or immigration detention center during the pandemic. It's worth recognizing as a bright spot in a very dark year."
     
(c)2021 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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