Coronavirus protection: Civil rights activists, lawyers call for release of all inmates from Santa Rita Jail in Dublin

DUBLIN, Calif. (KGO) -- Civil rights activists and lawyers are calling for the release of all inmates from Alameda County Santa Rita Jail to keep them safe from the novel coronavirus.

But, law enforcement says releasing inmates accused of violent crime would be unwise and unsafe.

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Before the coronavirus pandemic, Santa Rita jail was home to well over 2,000 inmates. Since then, 12 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 and many others have been released early before they could get it.

"We have released over 600 individuals since March 16th" Sgt. Ray Kelly with the Alameda County Sheriff's Office said.

But civil rights activists and attorneys say that's not enough. In a video conference today, they called for the remaining 1979 inmates to be released.

"These men and women have to be released as soon as possible in whatever ways we can as a community" said civil rights attorney Anne Weills of Oakland.

James Burch of the Anti-Police Terror Project added, "Every day that we are not able to dramatically reduce the population of these facilities used to detain or incarcerate means many, many more deaths."

The group says early releases could have kept the Cook County Jail near Chicago from becoming what some call the single most infected spot in the country. Nearly 400 inmates and staff there have tested positive.

The Alameda County Sheriff's Office says more inmates are being released, up to 56 more by Monday, including Derick Almena - who is awaiting retrial - in the deadly Ghostship warehouse fire.

Subtract the 480 people held for the U.S. Marshals Service and that leaves about 1300 detainees at Santa Rita.

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"90 percent of those individuals are in here for serious violent crimes, including homicides, sexual assault, crimes against children and other crimes of serious public concern" according to sheriff's Sgt. Ray Kelly.
In a statement D.A. Nancy O'Malley says there's no way they should be released. O'Malley's Office says - quote: "what we cannot do is jeopardize the safety of victims or the do otherwise would be irresponsible."

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