Fresno County local and state officials have joined forces to end a sudden crimewave triggered by the release of more than 1,500 inmates between April and June 20.
Five people were murders last weekend and shootings have almost doubled this year compared to 2019.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has also seized 71 illegal weapons from gun traffickers since October 6th.
Law enforcement officials have arrested 165 accused felons since October 6 and 111 are alleged to be known gang members.
District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp held a press conference Wednesday imploring California Governor Gavin Newsom to “open up the prisons.”
“Stop using COVID-19 to promote your political agenda,” said Smittcamp. “The blood of the children being shot by out of control gang members in our city is on your hands and the hands of every person who does not make public safety a priority.”
Newsom said he intends to close the Deuel Vocational Institution prison next year and another closure is planned for 2022.
“Governor, open up the prisons. Do your job. Manage. Manage your inmate population with all the restrictions you are putting on us and provide them the medical care they need should they become ill,” Smittcamp said.
In April, California enacted a zero bail policy aimed at lowering the jail populations and reducing the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks. Many violent offenders were released early to meet social distancing requirements.
Smittcamp complained that local criminals have been taking advantage of the current political climate and lax policies.
“There is a mentality out there because of $0 bail because of the overcrowding issues that there is a free-for-all and like I said earlier, criminals watch the news and know exactly what is going on the street,” she said.
Fresno Police Chief Andy Hall is also calling for an end to the release of violent criminals who are now spending little to no time in jail.
‘Our jails and our prisons are essential services to our community. Holding criminals accountable is the very foundation or cornerstone of our justice system,’ said Chief Hall.
He urged government officials to impose federal charges to circumvent parole boards who are often letting prisoners out early. Gang members would be moved to other states to serve their full sentences if convicted on federal charges.
‘Any prior felony convictions, the nature of those felony convictions, how recently ago was he released from custody — the kind of common sense things that tell us, this guy didn’t get the message and now he needs to come spend some time with us.’
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said, “Many inmates that were in custody for certain offenses…in fact, for most offenses, were released from Fresno County Jail.”
The Fresno County Superior Court created its own $0 bail system, but certain gun charges and repeat offenders no longer qualify. However, inmates continue to be released because of pods taken up by positive COVID cases.
“There is no one in Fresno County that wants to hold as many inmates as we legally can than me,” said Mims. “I want to make sure that we hold people accountable but I don’t want to allow people to come into jail or into a pod inappropriately where they might get sick. I can be held personally responsible.”
The police chief said, “We can no longer afford to trade a pandemic in our state for a crisis in our community. A crisis of crime. Our jails and our prisons are essential services to our community.
“I’m calling on Governor Newsome to open up our prisons. And stop victimizing our community,” Hall said.