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SB County to free hundreds of inmates to curb the spread of Coronavirus; Sheriff and DA speak out

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY, Calif. ( — San Bernardino County is preparing to free hundreds of inmates to curb the spread of Coronavirus behind bars.

The California Judicial Council’s move to slash bail to $0 means that most criminals arrested for nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors awaiting trial can be released without paying any bail.

Though supportive of COVID-19 prevention efforts, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon says some victims — especially victims of child abuse — could be put in further danger, while Jason Anderson the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office says the order is unjustified.

“The impact of zero-bail to public safety is significant and immediate. As an example, an inmate in our custody with a prior conviction of child abuse and domestic violence was arrested on a new charge of felony child abuse,” stated McMahon.

“Due to the zero-bail criteria, this inmate was released from custody and given a new court date in July. Based on this process, we are unable to hold this criminal in custody to ensure he does not recontact, live with, or cause additional harm to the victim,” the Sheriff stated.

McMahon said the unwarranted release of inmates under the zero bail criteria does not apply to only new arrestees. 

“Hundreds of inmates who have been in our custody for months and even years in some cases, are in the process of being released as I speak,” said McMahon.

A message from Sheriff John McMahon

McMahon said the blind gifting of $0-bail will result in the undoing of hundreds of decisions previously made by local judges, who used their experience and discretion to sentence inmates.

The District Attorney’s office said there is no significant problem currently in this county that should justify the order.

“We don’t believe we have to change our way of doing business and protecting the public when there’s no justification for having an order like the Judicial Council passed last week.”

Officials said the current jail population is already well below their average, and the facilities are prepared to provide sufficient bed space to isolate and to quarantine inmates from COVID-19.

“The Inmates in our custody receive excellent medical treatment, and often times have access to health care more readily than those not in jail,” stated McMahon.

McMahon ended the video saying “this mandate may further embolden criminals to commit crimes because there will be delayed – if any – consequences for their criminal behavior. The effects of zero bail on the County can be devastating. This is not in the best interests of the communities we are sworn to protect and serve.”

The order went into effect at 5:00 p.m. on Monday, April 13, 2020.

San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson joined McMahon and the sheriff’s department in sending a unified message that the new zero bail order is unacceptable for the county.

In a video message, Anderson said as of today, there is only one case of COVID-19 in our jails and attributed the overall health and safety of the inmates to the sheriff and his staff.

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