CALIFORNIA—On Monday, May 11, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva reported that inmates at a LA County Jail attempted infecting themselves with the coronavirus in the hopes of being released from imprisonment.

Multiple inmates at the North County Correctional Facility – 1 of 4 jails in the Pitchess Detention Center – in Castaic were seen drinking hot water from the same container. The LA Sheriff’s Department 

In a statement, the LASD surmised that they did so to falsely raise their temperature just before having it taken by a nurse, and to increase the potential of any of them contracting COVID-19. They also sniffed the same mask to increase the chance of infection.

The LASD noted that there was “plenty of space” to observe physical distancing, but the men chose to stay close to each other, “making their intentions obvious.”

21 men tested positive for COVID-19 within a week due to these activities. The inmates apparently mistakenly believe that those who are diagnosed with COVID-19 will be released, and “that’s not going to happen”, according to Villanueva. 

The LASD has in fact released over 5,000 inmates since February, but only those who were either nonviolent criminals in pre-trial detention, or who would have finished their sentences within 60 days. 

“Right now we’re sitting on around 11,700 inmates give or take, and that was a very important first step,” said Villanueva. “Had this pandemic swept through while we were sitting on 17,000 inmates, the results would have been catastrophic.”

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sheriff has implemented an array of measures in the jail system to curb the spread of the disease among inmates. These include educating jail staff and prisoners about the disease’s dangers and preventative methods, carrying out COVID-19 testing for all new inmates from May 3 onwards, isolating individuals, and providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to everyone.

“We’ve done everything within our power to reduce or prevent the spread of COVID-19 within our jail system,” stated Villanueva. 

The Sheriff reported that since the testing of new inmates began, 682 tests took place, and 16 were positive. There have been 222 infected inmates in total since the pandemic began, of which 117 have recovered thus far.

“It’s sad to think that someone (would) deliberately try to expose themselves to COVID-19.”