Inmates in the Los Angeles County prison system are deliberately trying to contract the coronavirus so that they will be released, according to Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
During a press conference on Monday, Sheriff Villanueva said that some inmates believed that if more inmates caught the virus, it would force the county to begin releasing more inmates.
“There was some mistaken belief among the inmate population that if they tested positive, 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.
The prison system has seen a 60% jump in cases of the virus in just one week.
The sheriff also played a video of inmates passing around a hot water bottle and each drinking from it before having their temperatures taken by a nurse.
“With the hot water, they were trying to falsely elevate their temperature readings to generate a symptom for COVID-19,” Villanueva said.
Footage also showed inmates crowding together instead of social distancing and passing around a mask they all breathed into.
“Then all of a sudden we saw a spike, a few weeks, ago, a very noticeable jump, and we couldn’t really understand why, when everything seemed to be going the way we wanted to,” Villanueva said.
CBS Los Angeles reports that since February, L.A. County’s inmate population has been reduced from 17,000 – the largest in the nation — to currently a little over 11,700.
“Had this pandemic swept through while we were sitting on 17,000 inmates, the results would have been catastrophic,” Villanueva said.
As of Monday, 357 inmates have tested positive and 117 of those inmates have recovered.
“There’s a reason why these people are behind bars to begin with, because they violated the norms of society,” Villanueva said. “But to then imperil not only their only safety, but the safety of their fellow inmates who did not want to participate in this behavior. It also endangers all the personnel, both the professional staff and the sworn staff.”