Fresno county jail

Monica Lam / KQED

More than 1,100 people at the Fresno County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began. The running tally of infections at the county-run complex actually surpasses those at all but two state prisons in California. But unlike the state’s careful tracking and reporting of cases at prisons and nursing homes, data on COVID-19 infections in county jails have not been consistently collected or made readily available to the public.

Fresno County Jail (file photo)

 

Governor Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 response this week shifted to eight counties in the San Joaquin Valley, where he is now sending support teams and $52 million in aid to assist with testing, contact tracing and other containment measures.

 

Fresno Alliance

The Fresno County Sheriff’s Department reported 507 positive COVID-19 cases at the county jail on Monday. That’s almost a quarter of the total jail population, but testing has still been limited to one part of the facility. 

The sheriff’s department reported its first cases of the coronavirus on June 19th. That’s when 13 incarcerated people who were being transferred out tested positive for COVID-19. The 13 had been housed in the jail’s north annex. 

Fresno County Department of Public Health

California was one of many states to set a record this week for the number of new cases reported in a single day. For a closer look at what’s been happening in our seven-county coverage area of the San Joaquin Valley, we bring you this update for the week of June 19-26, 2020. Meanwhile, you can always find up-to-date information for your county here.

The outlook

Fresno County Jail (file photo)

So far, only one inmate at the Fresno County jail has a confirmed case of the coronavirus. And as the pandemic continues, law enforcement are taking precautions to try and keep the case numbers low.

Tony Botti with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office says the inmate wasn’t symptomatic when he was booked Friday, but told a probation officer that he had tested positive a week earlier. 

The Fresno Bee

In 2011,  the U.S. Supreme Court ordered California to reduce its overcrowded prisons. Sweeping reforms called “realignment” shifted the responsibility for thousands of inmates to county jails. Since then, there’s been a sharp rise in jail inmate deaths, most notably in Fresno County.  I spoke with reporters Jason Pohl of the Sacramento Bee and Ryan Gabrielson of Propublica about their investigative series called Overcorrection. Jason Pohl starts by comparing the seven years before and after realignment.

It has been one year since the Fresno Sheriff’s Office began allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents into the county jail to check for undocumented immigrants. Now, immigration advocates are calling for an end to the practice.

Rallying outside the county courthouse, a small group of advocates held signs reading “ICE out of Fresno”.

Luis Ojeda, who himself is living in the country without documentation, says the practice sows fear in the Hispanic community that leads to fewer people reporting crimes.

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

The Fresno County Sheriff's Office is making progress filling a backlog of vacant correctional officer positions at the county jail.

The office is expected to give a mid-year update to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday including their need to fill 39 open jobs. That's down from 66 openings just three months ago.

But Sheriff's spokesman Tony Botti says that number is only going to grow over time.

Diana Aguilera / Valley Public Radio

Immigrant advocates in Fresno say they’re fed up with a recent decision by the sheriff’s department to collaborate in new ways with Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE). As Valley Public Radio’s Diana Aguilera reports, activists are demanding a change. 

Just last week Sheriff Margaret Mims announced a new program that allows two ICE agents to be stationed inside the Fresno County Jail. Federal agents can now check if inmates are in the country legally and can look at their criminal history to determine whether they should be deported.