TAMPA, Fla. - The sheriff of Hillsborough County announced the release of over 100 "low-level" offenders in light of the coronavirus pandemic. He said many were sitting in county jails because they couldn't make bond.
Sheriff Chad Chronister made the announcement Thursday morning, saying the decision will protect the remaining inmate population and employees from the spread of coronavirus. He said 164 inmates will be released
"These defendants are the lowest public-safety risk and were merely sitting in jail because they could not afford to pay the amount it would take to bond out," he explained during a news conference. "These defendants will still have to answer to the charges against them."
Chronister added that believes the inmates who couldn't afford to bond out will be better served by being at home with their families, preparing against the spread of COVID-19.
"This isn't a message that crime will be tolerated in our communities. It's just the opposite," he said.
There are no confirmed cases within Hillsborough County's jail population, he said, and high-risk offenders who were arrested for violent crimes will remain in jail.
"Today we are making a small step in reducing the number of people in our jails," Chronister explained, "to protect our detention deputies, their families, the remainder of our inmate population, and ultimately, our community. We cannot risk unnecessarily exposing our deputies to this virus."
"Our detention deputies come to work healthy and we want them to return to their fmailies and neighborhoods the same way when their shift is over," he added.
Chronister said the emergency action is "routine in times of crisis."
"I also want to be clear. If any of these defendants, released from custody because of the low-level nature of their offense in this state of emergency, re-offend, we will deal with them in the strictest manner possible," he said. "No one should mistake this emergency action as a time to do harm in our community."
Just yesterday, the Department of Corrections announced it will temporarily no longer accept new inmates at state prisons, but that shifts the burden of housing offenders to local officials. The policy went into effect Monday.
State prisons will restrict intake until March 30, but that date could change.
Last week, the DOC canceled visitation for state prisoners, except for lawyers. There haven not been any confirmed cases in state prison facilities.