Hundreds of inmates released to Riverside County as prisons shrink populations during COVID-19 pandemic

Christopher Damien Palm Springs Desert SunPublished 4:52 PM EDT Jul 31, 2020As the California Department of Co

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As the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation prepares to release about 3,000 inmates early as part of its plan to fight an outbreak of COVID-19 in the state's prisons, Riverside County Probation Department says it's almost finished receiving about 330 of those inmates in the county.

In addition to the state's reduction of the cost of bail for some crimes to $0, the inmate releases will continue to push the state's population of incarcerated people to historical lows.

The CDCR reported Thursday there are 99,929 people incarcerated in state prisons, the first time in three decades the population has fallen below 100,000.

"The last time that number was below 100,000 was in 1990, when California’s overall population was almost 10 million less than it is today," according to a CDCR news release.

The population of inmates incarcerated in county jails throughout the state also has plummeted.

The number of people incarcerated in county jails throughout the state, which is calculated as an average weekly population, has fallen 27% from Feb. 29, according to data reported by the Board of State and Community Corrections.

Riverside County Chief Probation Officer Ronald Miller said in a news release that the department is building case plans, arranging housing, and working with other community organizations to provide health and employment services for the hundreds of new inmates they are now supervising.

"Our department is ready to manage the influx of new clients," Miller said. "Most of these individuals were already scheduled to return to the county over the next few months. We are simply receiving them in a short period instead of staggered over time."

Kevin Slusarski, the probation department's spokesperson, said that the releases first started at the beginning of July and have been spread through the month as inmates were reviewed and tested for COVID-19. He added inmates must test negative for coronavirus prior to release.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a plan on July 9 to reduce the number of inmates in response to a surge of the virus in several locations, including Chuckawalla Valley State Prison where two inmates have died and nearly half of that facility's population had the virus in late June.

The CDCR explained at the time of the announcement that release priority would be given to inmates who had 180 days or less to serve on their sentences, are not serving time for domestic violence, are not registered sex offenders and aren't a high risk for violence. Priority will also be given to inmates 30 years of age or older and those who are considered medically "high-risk" for morbidity and mortality if they contract the virus.

The most recent releases are in addition to the approximately 10,000 inmates who have been released since March when the department first started releasing inmates early because of the threat of the virus.

The county's jail population has also dropped substantially, mirroring a much larger reduction in the populations of other county jails around the state.

Riverside County Sheriff's Department has reported a 12.7% drop in the average daily population of inmates incarcerated in the county's five jails. The department last reported an average daily population of 3,339 for the week of July 25, down from 3,823 for the week of Feb. 29. While bookings are now about 800, after reaching a low point of 403 in April, they are still well below the February average of more than 1,000.

Desert Sun reporter Christopher Damien covers crime, public safety and the criminal justice system. He can be reached at or follow him at @chris_a_damien.
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