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With zero bail officially over, law enforcement looks to keep COVID-19 in check in jails


The rule could come back if jail conditions worsen, the California Judicial Council says

FRESNO, California (KGPE) — June 20 marks the end of California’s controversial zero dollar bail rule. Set by the California Judicial Council in April, it effectively got rid of bail for misdemeanor and low-level felony charges to keep jail populations low during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many local law enforcement leaders across the Central Valley openly criticized the rule in its 72 day run. Some agencies reported a number of criminals committing crimes over and over.

But, its end comes as more than a dozen inmates coming from the Fresno County Jail tested positive for the virus, putting more than a thousand inmates in quarantine. The California Judicial Council did say if conditions worsened in jails, the rule could be re-instituted.

The rule was in effect starting April 9. More than a month after it went into effect, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said criminals took advantage of it.

“We have people that are arrested, released with zero dollar bail, and they go out and reoffend,” Mims said. “These criminals know what the rules are. They know what they’re going to be able to get away with.”

When the rule was in effect, the sheriff’s office had nearly 1,200 zero bail releases and 232 re-bookings. The re-booking number includes multiple arrests of the same arrestee. The numbers show a recidivism rate — or tendency to reoffend — of 20%.

Some of the notable re-arrests are Eric Simmons and John Mathison.

In a span of six weeks, Simmons was in-and-out of jail four times, facing charges including robbery and rape. He also had an outstanding warrant for spousal abuse. The rule largely reduced or eliminated his bail each time.

Mathison, meanwhile, lead authorities on two different chases within an 11 day period. The first chase resulted in an injury of another driver.

Tony Botti, public information officer for the sheriff’s office, said 13 inmates tested positive after being transported to Wasco State Prison earlier this week. As of Friday, around 1,200 inmates in the jail’s north annex are now in quarantine.

Botti said from the beginning of the pandemic, the jail has been closely monitoring the inmate population’s health — particularly checking for symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19.

“We do have about nine inmates right now with elevated temperature, a fever,” he said. “So, of course, we want to keep a close eye on them and check with everybody else to make sure they’re okay.”

From the first day of zero bail, law enforcement agencies were able to prevent some releases. To do so, an agency had to convince a judge the arrestee is a public safety risk.

The sheriff’s office successfully did that after Mathison’s second arrest.

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