Believing that testing positive for the coronavirus might get them freed, inmates at a Los Angeles County jail have been trying to infect one another, according to videos released by Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
Many jails opened the doors to inmates when the coronavirus hit. In New York City, for example, several released inmates were again jailed after committing crimes upon their release.
Villanueva said the LA County inmates at the North County Correctional Facility seemed to think the same would happen to them.
“It’s sad to think that someone deliberately tried to expose themselves to COVID-19,” Villanueva told the Los Angeles Times this week.
“Somehow there was some mistaken belief among the inmate population that if they tested positive that there was a way to force our hand and somehow release more inmates out of our jail environment — and that’s not gonna happen,” he said.
One video released by Villanueva showed inmates sharing a container of water, while another showed a group of inmates all breathing into the same face covering.
The videos were part of Villanueva’s effort to explain the presence of COVID-19 in the jails. Across LA County, more than 4,500 inmates are in quarantine, the Times reported Mondy, meaning they were housed in the same unit as either an inmate who tested positive or one whose test had not yet come back.
About 2,000 of those inmates were at the jail where the videos were taken.
The county’s jails, which usually have about 17,000 inmates, held fewer than 12,000 inmates as of Monday, according to the sheriff’s department.
Thirty inmates in the jail modules where the two videos were recorded tested positive for the virus, Assistant Sheriff Bruce Chase told the Times.
Villanueva, meanwhile, noted that inmates have not admitted they were trying to infect each other.
“I think their behavior itself is what convicts them,” he said.
In one video, an inmate fills a container with water and shares that with at least two other inmates. Villanueva said the inmates also drank hot water to try to increase their temperatures.
In another video, inmates share a cup and gather around to breathe into what appears to be the same face covering.
The clips were “just a sampling of the many other videos being reviewed and used in the ongoing investigation,” Lt. John Satterfield told the Times.
Jail is a perfect place for the virus to spread, said Jackie Clark, director of Correctional Health Services..
“They’re in dorm settings, so it’s easy once one person is positive, if everybody is still in close contact with each other, or not wearing masks,” she told the Times.
Villanueva is under attack for conditions in the jails.
“In an attempt to demonize incarcerated people, he is taking a page right out of Trump’s playbook by gaslighting those who are already vulnerable and in absolute fear,” said Patrisse Cullors, an activist whose uncle is suing LA County over jail conditions.
“Contrary to the Sheriff’s allegations, what I’ve been hearing from prisoners is that there isn’t enough soap, there is no hot water, that sheriff deputies are taunting folks inside by coughing in their presence, telling them they’re going to die of COVID,” she told the Times.
The Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission has summoned Villanueva to explain his handling of the virus in the county’s jails.
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