Sheriff Villanueva Outlines Challenges in Custody Environment Amid COVID-19
Since realizing COVID-19 was underway, headed into our lives, facilities, jails, and daily operations, Sheriff Alex Villanueva directed Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department employees to take precautionary measures for everyone’s protection.
Custody is a particularly unique environment in which to take these kinds of measures. Nevertheless, with a lot of consideration, new protocols, and collaboration with medical staff, we got it done. On Monday, May 11, 2020, during one of his virtual weekly press conferences conducted at the Sherman Block Building in Monterey Park, Sheriff Alex Villanueva outlined measures used to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our jail system.
Unfortunately, through video surveillance, it was determined a group of inmates at the Pitchess Detention Center-North County Correctional Facility deliberately attempted to infect themselves with COVID-19. Multiple men were seen sipping from a single bottle of hot water for two reasons: To falsely elevate their oral temperature moments before having their temperature taken by a nurse, and to spread the potential of infection. The bottle and a secondary cup of hot water were passed among the men inside of a day room, which is a common area next to a housing area with beds, akin to the living room of a house or apartment. There was plenty of space in which to observe physical distancing, however, the men chose to interact close to each other, making their intentions obvious.
As a direct result of the behavior seen in the video, 21 men tested positive for COVID-19 within a week. A gross misunderstanding among the inmate population led many to believe that those diagnosed with COVID-19 may be released, which is untrue. Current numbers show there were a total of 4,590 inmates quarantined within the Los Angeles County jail system, 317 were isolated. Since the pandemic, we had a total of 222 positives inside the jail, 117 inmates recovered and 18 inmates released from custody after testing positive for COVID-19, but prior to meeting CDC standards for being considered fully recovered.
The Sheriff did everything possible to protect those entrusted to the care of the Department through modifying bail and booking dollar amounts, reducing our inmate population by more than 5,000 bodies, ordering COVID-19 screening at booking areas, having both staff and inmates educated about the dangers and preventative practices, directed custody personnel to implement and conduct quarantine and isolation measures, making personal protective equipment available to everyone inside our facilities, and, on Sunday, May 3, 2020, enacting a new procedure for the testing of COVID-19 for all inmates entering the jail system. So far, 682 were tested, of which 16 met with positive results. “We’ve done everything within our power to reduce or prevent the spread of COVID-19 within our jail system,” said Sheriff Villanueva.
In addition, there were 320 LASD personnel quarantined, in total, comprised of 227 sworn and 93 professional staff throughout the Department. Of those quarantined, 107 tested positive; 71 of them sworn and 36 of them professional staff. Fortunately, 927 employees returned to work, 612 of them sworn, and 315 of them professional staff.
The Sheriff outlined the decline of violent crimes, in general, by nine percent, with criminal homicides rising seven percent and rape reporting down by 29%. Property crime reduced by seven percent, and since Sunday, March 29, 2020, there were four COVID-19-related arrests and 65 citations.