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San Jose mayoral candidate seeks change to county jail's pandemic early release policy

San Jose mayoral candidate seeks change to county jail's pandemic early release policy
San Jose mayoral candidate seeks change to county jail's pandemic early release policy 03:00

SAN JOSE – A San Jose city councilmember and mayoral candidate is making a legislative push to change COVID-19 policies at the Santa Clara County Main Jail, saying efforts to reduce the spread of the disease have resulted in a "revolving door."

"I don't want our police force out there arresting folks who are simply going to be back on the streets an hour later," said Councilmember Matt Mahan.

Mahan told KPIX 5 he's heard complaints from the San Jose Police Department about a group of 30 people who have been arrested 10 times or more between April 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021.

As part of the county's policy during the early days of the pandemic, many of the individuals were arrested and booked, but were then quickly released before their trial in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 at the jail.

Santa Clara County Main Jail in San Jose. CBS

According to Mahan, many of the defendants failed to appear in court, and committed crimes while out on "pre-trial release."

"At this point it's pretty clear to me that the public safety risks, we're seeing crime up 10% year-over-year, outweigh any public health risks. Two and a half years into this pandemic, I think its past time to change direction on some of these policies," said Mahan.

Earlier this month, the San Jose City Council voted to allocate $300,000 for additional police resources to track down and re-arrest the defendants.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mahan introduced a memo in the Rules Committee that would call on the San Jose City Manager to meet with, and seek reassurances from, Santa Clara County Executive Dr. Jeff Smith, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, and Santa Clara County Superior Court Presiding Judge Theodore Zayner.

"To just put more water in a leaky bucket, it doesn't solve the problem. So we need a commitment from the County that they're going to actually detain high-risk repeat offenders if we go arrest them again," said Mahan.

In the other major component of the memo, Mahan is requesting the city investigate the legality of the county's practice of releasing the defendants due to COVID risk.

"My reading of the State Constitution is that that should be at the sole discretion of a judge. And at this point it appears that an unelected, unaccountable administrator is making decisions about who should be released pre-trial," said Mahan.

County executive Smith had no comment. Sheriff Smith and Judge Zayner did not respond to a request for comment. County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who is Mahan's opponent in the upcoming San Jose Mayoral election, was not available for comment.

The Rules Committee did not vote on the memo Wednesday. Staff will research and study Mahan's proposal, and report back later this summer.    

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