Cite and release, not jail, for some over COVID-19 concerns
As of today, almost all Nevada County departments are responding to the coronavirus and COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, by implementing social distancing protocols, limiting services and closing buildings.
At Wayne Brown Correctional Facility — whose population has no choice as to their presence — staff is working feverishly to curtail possible exposure to coronavirus. Correctional staff members have increased the frequency of cleaning for all common areas including housing units and intake areas. As of late last week, inmate visitations and volunteer programs have been suspended through April 13 at best. Attorney visits are still being allowed, said Jail Commander Sam Brown said.
And low-level, non-violent misdemeanor offenders are now much more likely to be cited and released, rather than booked into jail if there is no safety risk to the community.
Most jails throughout the state are moving toward an approach of encouraging law enforcement entities to issue a citation or file a criminal case with the District Attorney’s Office, Brown said.
Misdemeanor offenders would be released fairly quickly in any event, he said, adding, “Why inject a subject with a possible infection into the jail community? The whole reason for someone to be jailed is public safety. Jailing an offender is not always a necessity. Don’t bring them to jail unless they really need to be there because of a safety issue.”
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One major concern, Brown said, is straining the hospital’s capacity to deal with potential COVID-19 cases.
“We want to protect our inmate population, we want to protect our employees, we want to protect the community,” he said. “The people in jail are our community. We want them to be as healthy as possible — it’s extremely important.”
Brown was quick to stress that citations are not a “get out of jail free” card.
“You will still have a (jail) commit date if a case is filed,” he said. “You just don’t have to go to jail immediately.”
Nevada City Police Chief Chad Ellis said that in response to the coronavirus concerns, he has implemented a policy for his officers to cite and release non-violent misdemeanor offenders, on a case-by-case basis.
“We’re going to see how this plays out,” Ellis said. “We don’t want to take (possibly) infected people into a jail situation.”
Grass Valley Police Lt. Joe Matteoni said his department is following similar protocols, and will be more likely to cite and release nonviolent misdemeanor offenders if the offense is not likely to continue.
Some jails in the state are at capacity and have been directed to reduce their inmate populations substantially, Brown said, adding that while Nevada County is not at that stage, jail staff are in the early stages of evaluating some inmates as possible candidates for home detention. In the meantime, inmates are being medically screened during the booking process and will be isolated if symptoms are detected.
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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