Fresno Co. Jail won't send inmates to prison during coronavirus crisis

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- An order from the governor could force some changes at county jails and even some inmate releases and in the Fresno County jail, one disease outbreak is making the second one a little worse in Fresno County.

For at least 30 days, California prisons won't take any new inmates coming from county jails, no matter their sentence, to make sure the coronavirus doesn't travel the jail-to-prison pipeline.

It works the other way, too.

Nobody's coming from the prisons to the Fresno County jail.

"We're not allowing that to happen because we do know that state prisons do have the virus and so we're not allowing those inmates to commingle with ours to make sure we keep our inmates from being exposed," said Sheriff Margaret Mims.

In Fresno, that means about 160 of the 2,900 inmates won't go where they're supposed to go.

That's a lot more than the usual 20 to 40 inmates awaiting transfer to prison because of a recent mumps outbreak.

Fresno County already had to reduce the number of inmates sent to prison, so the order is putting a little extra pressure on the jail population, but Sheriff Mims says there are some positives.

"We've kind of had a dry run when it comes to communicable diseases and illnesses in the jail," she said.

Jail bookings are down about 15% from last year and the sheriff is committed to keeping people accused of the worst crimes in jail even as courts are closed for at least a couple weeks.

People waiting for misdemeanor trials and people nearing the end of a jail sentence would be among the first to get out under orders from the state's Chief Justice, but so far releases have been minimal.

The sheriff's office has instituted new protocols to make sure the coronavirus doesn't get inside.

They're sending medical staff to triage new inmates and catch people with symptoms and send them to the hospital instead of booking.

"It's always a concern that this could show up in the jail and if the percentages hold true, it may be an eventuality but we're ready to deal with it," said Sheriff Mims.

The jail has tested a few inmates for the novel coronavirus, including one test on an inmate who died over the last week.

His test results aren't back, but the rest came back negative.

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