FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE) – Hundreds of inmates in Fresno County have been or will be released, in part to comply with the California Judicial Council emergency rule that puts a statewide $0 bail on misdemeanors and some felonies.
The rule aims to decrease the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in a jail by decreasing jail populations.
As of Monday at 2 p.m., 428 inmates had been released — 131 because of the Judicial Council rule.
On March 23, a local judge order allowed the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office to release inmates who had 30 days or less remaining in their sentence — 297 have been released due to this.
Of those 428, 371 have are inmates accused of felonies and 57 are inmates accused of misdemeanors.
Among the list that qualify for $0 bail includes those accused of elderly abuse, auto theft and hit and run.
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, during a Facebook Live on Monday morning, said she fears this could increase crime in the county.
“This is going to set us back, this is going to mean more crimes,” Mims said.
Merrill Balassone, a spokesperson with the California Judicial Council, said if a judge finds good cause, they can refuse bail or place restraints on a person’s release.
“All it means is that a person won’t be forced to stay in jail before trial just because they can’t afford bail,” she said. “The courts are in uncharted territory, and we have to balance public safety and public health. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is spreading in jails.”
Several counties throughout California are dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks in their jails and within their law enforcement agencies.
In Fresno County, Sheriff Mims said no one is the county jail has tested positive thus far. Five people have been tested, but the tests came back negative.
“We’ve had no COVID in our county jail. We’re preparing for it, if it happens in the community, it seems to me, it’s a matter of time before it happens in the jail,” Mims said.
Mims said despite the pandemic, she continues to urge the public to continue to report any crimes.