Coronavirus California: Inmates receiving 'get out of jail free' card during COVID-19 crisis, sheriff says

FRESNO, Calif. -- The number of inmates locked up in the Fresno County Jail is decreasing by the day, with 131 inmates released in the past several days after a new state order set a "zero bail" amount for most crimes.

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Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims says a "get out of jail free" card is being handed out by the state because of the current emergency order prompted by COVID-19.

"This is going to set us back, this is going to mean more crimes," she said.

In a Facebook Live Monday, alongside Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig, Mims says she has no choice but to abide by the ruling.

"Even though it says serious violent felonies can still have bail, not included on this list is child abuse, elder abuse, and vehicle theft. That means when somebody steals a vehicle and gets booked into the jail; they are going to have zero bail," she said.

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The sheriff said state officials made the blanket ruling throughout California without taking into account what each specific county has done to reduce jail populations and protect the inmates from the coronavirus.

The ruling does not take into account the person's prior criminal history, including any strikes. It is based solely on current booking charges.

Over the past few weeks, an additional 297 inmates were set free in Fresno County after the Chief Justice of California recommended inmates with 30 days or less of their sentence remaining be released early.

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The sheriff said those releases have allowed her department to have an entire floor of the jail empty and available, should the need to establish a quarantine zone arise.

So far, there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in the jail involving either employees or inmates.

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