Riverside County Sheriff Takes Stand Against Zero Bail and Releasing Inmates During Pandemic

Video Part One:

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“It’s ridiculous and the people should be outraged,” says Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco.

Bianco pulls no punches when it comes to the no bail rule set for most misdemeanors and minor felonies  by the California Judicial Council as part of their strategy to control coronavirus from spreading in jails and courtrooms.

“If you’re afraid or you don’t have the money to bail out of jail, don’t commit a crime,” says Bianco, adding this move was purely political because those left to implement it were left out of the conversation, “no one consulted me about the status of my jail … if they would have it would have a resounding, no we don’t need this zero bail.” 

The chief justice of the council said they were trying their best to preserve rights and ultimately preserve lives and did get comments from law enforcement. We reached to the council and asked them to elaborate. They told us there’s some misconception about the temporary rule and sent us this statement: 

“A judge still has discretion to deny or raise bail if they find good cause the defendant is a threat to public safety and conditions can be placed on a defendant’s release.”

Criminal defense attorney John Patrick Dolan says high level offenders do not qualify under this rule and  this is the right thing to do in these unprecedented times, “The modified bail schedule makes sense because of this pandemic, this is a once in 100 year circumstance and there’s a lot of people sitting in jail with very low bails that can’t make those bails and the courts are essentially shut down.”

But Bianco says they’ve already had to release criminals that have re offended, “There’s supposed to be consequence for breaking the law and that’s how we maintain an orderly society.”  

Dolan says that’s not the purpose of bail, “Bail should not be a punishment, it should only be to guarantee the appearance of a person changed with a crime.”

Bianco says this will put the community and deputies at risk, “It’s making it very difficult for us to maintain public safety,” adding people should look to repeal a ballot measure to make the zero bail rule permanent. 

Video Part 2:

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A lawsuit filed on behalf of inmates in the county jails claims overcrowding, hygiene issues and inability to social distance are a concern. Prison reform advocates say just merely being in jail puts inmates at risk and many should be let out during this pandemic.

“The only effective way to stop this looming crisis is a mass release … and it’s unconscionable to put people’s life at risk simply because it is the easy and seemingly and safe thing to do,” says prison reform advocate James King, a state campaigner for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. 

 But Bianco pushes back on those claims, “That argument is completely baseless, it’s a way to get some type of a sympathy for a criminal that belongs in jail and somehow trying to get them out and the bottom line is I‘m not letting them out.” 

Bianco says this lawsuit is without merit and was only revisited because of COVID-19. He says they’ve taken extraordinary measures to protect staff and inmates.

It’s believed Deputy Terrell Young contracted the virus while transporting an inmate to hospital and died.

So far 63 inmates have tested  for COVID-19, 4 have recovered Bianco says inmates receive treatment as soon as they show any symptoms and there’s plenty of room to isolate the sick.

“Our jail population has never been this low, we have ample room to isolate inmates and treat them, we have our doctors and nurses are doing a fantastic job treating them, it can’t go without saying that the inmates in custody are getting better medical treatment than what the general public is, it’s readily accessible to them on a daily basis,” says Bianco. 

Dolan says there is a concern and letting out inmates on a case by case basis should be looked at during this crisis, “There’s a problem and it’s not as though the jail is not trying to do something to do about it, but to say that there isn’t’ a problem is to turn a blind eye to something that that’s an obvious difficulty if people are in groups, if they’re in groups without distance there’s a chance that there could be an epidemic inside the jail and we’re all trying to avoid that.”

But Bianco says there are no low level criminals  in his jails and they won’t be let out on his watch, “… and jeopardize the safety of the two and a half million people that live in this county for the safety of a couple hundred, it’s not going to happen.”

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