Judge orders Orange County to release 50% of prison inmate population

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SANTA ANA, Calif. – Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer released the following statement criticizing a court ruling in Campbell et. all v. Barnes that requires Sheriff Don Barnes to reduce the inmate population in the Orange County jail system by 50 %.

“A  judge’s ruling to reduce the inmate population in the Orange County jail system by half will release dangerous and violent criminals back into our neighborhoods to commit more crimes and victimize more people,” Spitzer said. “This is not fearmongering; it is a fact. The jail population, through the implementation of $0 bail and early release by the Sheriff, has been reduced by more than 33% since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. “

The District Attorney’s Office has been keeping statistics in order to understand the impact of these court orders. Orange County inmates released early before serving their full sentence or on $0 bail went out and committed new crimes at rates at nearly triple normal recidivism rates: 44% for early release inmates and 38% for $0 bail defendants.

A sample of their crimes: auto theft, burglary, robbery, assault, weapons, theft and narcotics.


And a 23-year-old man who stabbed his 17-year-old ex-girlfriend four times, killing her. He had been released on $0 bail 3 ½ weeks earlier. 

“These are not just new crimes. These are new victims.  The rise of coronavirus cases is not relegated to the jail system; Orange County and nearly all of California are seeing disturbing increases in new cases,” he added. “Nothing, not even a pandemic suspends the rule of law. The solution is simple: don’t break the law and you won’t end up in jail.   If the Sheriff appeals this ruling – and I hope he does – the District Attorney’s Office will file an amicus brief with our data which demonstrates just how dangerous this decision is.”

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes and his staff have taken a proactive approach to balancing the health and safety of the inmates, his deputies, and jail staff with protecting the community from being further victimized. Inmates who were let out before serving their full sentence – many who are medically vulnerable – were determined to be the lowest risk – and they still went out and committed more crimes at alarming rates.

Nearly 350 convicted defendants who were sentenced to state prison remain in the Orange County jail system because the state refuses to accept them. Four months ago, Sheriff Barnes and I sent letters to the governor asking for these state prisoners to be transferred. Freeing up hundreds of beds would alleviate at least some of the strain on the County jail system.

“Throwing open the jail doors and releasing dangerous and violent inmates back into our communities where they will no doubt continue to commit new crimes is not the answer. It is not in the interest of the criminal justice system, it is not in the interest of the public, and it is not in the interest of safety,” Spitzer added.

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