As COVID-19 outbreaks proliferate inside California’s jails and prisons, a new statewide survey of state voters shows broad, bipartisan support for elected prosecutors and sheriffs to follow public health guidance and reduce the number of people incarcerated or taken into custody in order to slow the spread of the virus.
The data, released this week in a pair of reports by The Justice Collaborative Institute and Data for Progress, comes as the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections inside California’s jails and prison system continues to rise, posing a growing threat now on the verge of humanitarian disaster. The reports cover the role of two key actors — district attorneys and sheriffs — can play in mitigating this crisis. While some counties in California have begun releasing certain people from jail, the current approach hasn’t been sufficient to slow the spread of COVID-19. District attorneys must lead the way by agreeing to quickly and safely release people from custody, according to one report.
“Prosecutors serve the public. They are supposed to protect the public. And keeping people in jails, where COVID-19 is quickly spreading, threatens the public,” said Jody David Armour, a law professor at the University of Southern California and one of the report’s authors. “Prosecutors have the power to take sweeping and urgent action. This is a crisis. We can’t approach this case-by-case, or person-by-person, we need to release more people now, and we’ve shown that prosecutors can do that with broad public support.”
The polling shows that a bipartisan majority of California voters agrees:
- 68% of voters, including 62% of Republicans, support district attorneys agreeing to release all people serving a misdemeanor local jail sentence who are within six months of release;
- 63% of voters, including 54% of Republicans, support district attorneys agreeing to release anyone who is held pretrial and who does not pose an unreasonable safety risk to the community;
- 61% of voters, including 51% of Republicans, support district attorneys agreeing to the release of all people held on probation and parole technical violation detainers or sentences.
California sheriffs must also take measures to reduce jail populations in light of the ongoing pandemic by limiting the number of arrests for misdemeanors, low-level offenses, and technical violations, according to another report.
Polling shows that a bipartisan majority of California voters also agrees with this approach.
- 65% of voters, including 59% of Republicans, support using cite-and-release in lieu of new bookings and admissions to jails.
- 62% of voters, including 53% of Republicans, support suspending arrests and bookings of people accused of violating the terms of supervision.
“Residents of California know — and have shown through their votes time and time again — that simply warehousing people in jails does not promote public safety,” said Jessica Pishko, senior legal counsel at The Justice Collaborative and a co-author of the report. “Sheriffs who opt for decarceration measures to protect inmates, staff, and communities will show their constituents what it means to be selfless leaders and compassionate guardians of the public.”
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