VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The Virginia Beach Sheriff's Office said Tuesday it started to release some nonviolent offenders into its electronic home arrest program to reduce the population in the correctional center.
Deputies said they're trying to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading through their 1,3388 inmates.
A court order gave the sheriff's office the ability to release inmates who met certain criteria.
The office said it identified about 60 inmates who qualified for the Electronic Home Incarceration Program. Those inmates had 90 days or less left to serve on sentences relating to nonviolent misdemeanors.
The sheriff's office said it also is considering nonviolent felony offenders for this pre-existing program on a case-by-case basis.
Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle said his team is doing all it can to insulate the jail from coronavirus because hundreds of people live in close contact there, and the virus could spread quickly.
"This is an inherently high-risk population, especially given our number of sick, elderly and immunocompromised individuals," Stolle said. "For them, a coronavirus diagnosis could be a death sentence."
The correctional center is instituting an automatic 14-day quarantine for all new admissions, which deputies said meant it needs more bed space.
Inmates who are released to home arrest will be tracked using GPS ankle bracelets.
Stolle acknowledged that such a move could worry Virginia Beach residents, but said he would "never compromise public safety or release someone who poses a threat to our community."
Under the Electronic Home Incarceration Program, inmates usually are charged $3.20 per day to participate, but the sheriff's office said it plans to waive those fees as long as offenders keep good behavior and return their equipment undamaged.
"Now is the time for us as a society to decide who we are mad at and who we are afraid of, and only incarcerate those we’re afraid of," Stolle wrote.