Los Angeles County has been taking steps since March to reduce the population in its jails. Sheriff's deputies are citing and releasing suspects more often, the Los Angeles Times reports, and inmates with less than 30 days left to serve are being released. On Monday, the jails that usually have 17,000 inmates instead held fewer than 12,000. The reduction may not be happening quickly enough for some inmates. The sheriff said Monday that inmates tried to infect themselves with the new coronavirus. "Somehow there was some mistaken belief among the inmate population that if they tested positive that there was a way to force our hand and somehow release more inmates out of our jail environment," Sheriff Alex Villanueva said. "And that's not gonna happen."
Surveillance videos show inmates breathing into or sniffing from a single face mask they passed around. Others took turns drinking from a container; Villanueva said they were trying to raise their body temperatures by drinking hot water before being checked by a nurse, per KABC. Within a week, the sheriff said, 21 of about 50 inmates in one module at the Castaic correctional facility had tested positive for the virus. A class-action lawsuit filed against the county calls coronavirus precautions for the inmates inadequate, per the Times, and a plaintiff's relative said more inmates should be released. The sheriff said no one has admitted to the infection scheme, though investigators have interviewed the inmates. "It's sad to think that someone deliberately tried to expose themselves to COVID-19," Villanueva said. The video footage is posted here. (Read more coronavirus stories.)