Cases of COVID-19 are starting to appear in jails and other correctional facilities in LA County. More than 60 community organizations are calling on law enforcement to release people in custody to help prevent the spread of the disease and any related deaths. They’re asking courts and county officials to release people who are locked up for misdemeanors, low level felonies, and technical probation violations. They are also asking to stop transfers to other facilities, and for inmates to be given free phone calls, masks, and disinfectant.
There’s a history of outbreaks spreading inside LA County institutions, most recently mumps in 2019. Jared O’Brien, who spent time in a juvenile facility, says that close quarters and dirty conditions make a perfect breeding ground for sickness:
“The rooms are really, really cold. There's blood on the floor, pee on the floor. They don't really clean these rooms that anybody has to go in. All of the probation staff is wearing masks and gloves and stuff like that, but the youth who are actually in there, who are most vulnerable, those are the ones that doesn't [sic] have access to masks. They don't have access to hand sanitizer. They don't have access to gloves.”
Community organizers say people are better off navigating the streets they’re familiar with, rather than being kept in an environment where they aren’t able to protect themselves.
“We feel that people are much safer in the streets where they have a system. Maybe they're not living with their family. They’re usually connected to family or friends that can support them, look after them. There are community-based organizations that they're usually connected to that they already rely on for food and other resources,” says Kim McGill, an organizer at the Youth Justice Coalition.
“That's a much better support system than the county jail … 24-hour lockdowns in crowded cells or crowded dorms, where they're not having any masks or any disinfectant. … They didn't care about releasing unhealthy people to the streets for four decades. So it seems disingenuous that they would be concerned about that now,” McGill continues.