KERN COUNTY, Calif. — Earlier this month, District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer vocally opposed the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation decision to release prison inmates in the midst of COVID-19 for several reasons, including concern for public safety. These inmates will be monitored by the Kern County Probation Department, but their chief officer tell 23ABC's Kallyn Hobmann they have a few concerns of their own.
“Traditionally we would get around fifty to sixty of these releases per month, you know, and then just this month alone we’re probably getting 180," said Kern County Chief Probation Officer TR Merickel.
The CDCR has confirmed that there are 180 inmates whose releases are being expedited, and will be returning to Kern County. Merickel says the large number of released inmates is a challenge for his department.
“It’s our responsibility to, you know, first of all supervise and make sure they’re doing what they’re doing and then also to try to provide them with services to be successful, so, you know, the larger the number the more of strain it is on us," he said.
Still, Merickel says the department is maintaining strong communication with the CDCR to monitor the inmates. He says the likelihood of an inmate to re-offend is assessed, and that risk determines how often the probation department checks in on them. Meanwhile, the department is also working to help the inmates readjust to life outside of prison.
“I do want people in Kern County to know that we’re taking it very seriously. We’re doing everything we can to keep track of who’s coming out and provide the services that are necessary," Merickel said.
In light of the pandemic, the CDCR says anyone who is actively positive will not be released. Those who are released are tested for COVID-19 within seven days.
If they test positive, they will be offered free housing to quarantine in.
District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer says these inmates should not be released. In a press release, Zimmer said that Governor Gavin Newsom "has made clear time and time again his intent to fill our communities with violent felons."
Despite the concerns surrounding the situation, Merickel does have a positive outlook.
“It’s not something we asked for, but these guys are being released, guys and gals are being released, and they are going to be in the our community. So we need to do everything we can to provide them the services but also to make sure Kern County is as safe as possible," Merickel said.
While there is not an exact arrival date for these inmates, Merickel says the department is expecting them in the coming weeks.