Pima County works to release non-violent inmates to slow spread of COVID-19

Pima County works to reduce jail population
Updated: Jan. 22, 2021 at 2:39 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Pima County Sheriff’s Department said another inmate at the Pima County Adult Detention Complex has died from COVID-19.

The department said the 47-year-old man died, Wednesday, Jan. 20, after being taken to the hospital a week ago.

The inmate had been in custody since January 2020 on a number of charges, including child abuse.

The department said it is the second death this week, and the only deaths they have had since the pandemic began.

A 70-year-old man died after being taken to the hospital for COVID-19 complications on Monday, Jan. 18.

“It’s actually incumbent upon us right now to take swift action,” said Pima County Attorney Laura Conover.

Conover says the jail population needs to drop to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“We know that you have to move people out quickly because what comes next is a lot of illness and a lot of death,” Conover said.

“It’s not just our inmate population, it’s also our correctional staff. They are in a big way, hurting over there,” said Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos.

The Pima County Sheriff’s Department says out of the roughly 1,500 inmates, 150 have tested positive for COVID-19.

Conover believes the jail population needs to drop by about 200 people to create more distance.

“Inside a jail facility, it’s like just putting lighter fluid down and striking a match. Once it’s in there, it’s very very difficult to get a hold of again. It’s that congregate living where people cannot space out,” Conover said.

“We are reviewing every single person inside the jail once again, looking for people who simply should not be there - nonviolent, low level offenses who might be stuck in there on low cash bail from the previous year,” Conover said.

Pima County Public Defender Joel Feinman said he has sent the names of three dozen inmates to the DA’s office to be considered for release.

“The public defender’s office is trying to do as much as we can to get as many of our clients out of jail as we can who are there pre-trial, innocent until proven guilty and who would not pose a risk to the community, a safety risk by being released,” Feinman said.

It’s up to a judge to decide who can be released, but Feinman says it does help when the prosecutors and the defense attorneys agree.

This is not the first time the county attorney’s office has worked to lower the jail population during the pandemic.

Around this time last year, the jail population was roughly 1,900.

When the pandemic hit, a Pima County Superior Court judge issued an order to remove bail conditions for dozens of nonviolent offenders.

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