ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell is changing her office’s policy on seeking incarceration for defendants in response to the COVID-19 outbreak at the Orange County jail.
Worrell made the announcement about the policy change Thursday in a news release.
“I decided I would implement a policy that would help do our part by reducing the incarcerated population and reducing the spread of COVID-19,” Worrell said.
The policy comes after an outbreak of virus cases at the Orange County Jail where 83 inmates contracted the virus, according to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings.
Worrell is asking her prosecutors to find out if non violent defendants who are facing charges fall into high risk groups defined by the Centers for Disease Control.
The goal of the policy change is to reduce the population at the jail in an effort to slow the spread of infections, according to the state attorney’s office. Assistant state attorneys will now determine whether a defendant is over 60 years old, has a body mass index, BMI, over 35 or has a health condition that puts them at high risk of severe complications due to the coronavirus.
“Upon the presence of any of these factors, ASAs shall recommend ROR (release on your own recognizance) or other non-monetary condition of release, and appropriate non-incarcerative disposition for all pending cases that meet the consideration outline throughout the policy,” according to the release.
The release stated that “our incarcerated population emerges as one of the most at-risk groups” for COVID-19 infection. The statement echos Dr. Raul Pino from the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, who referred to jails as a “petri dish” during a news conference last week.
“The surprise about this is not that we have an outbreak, is that we didn’t have that many outbreaks,” Pino said.
Pino announced on Thursday that 131 inmates have been infected, 55 are currently in isolation and 26 corrections officers are also infected with 16 in isolation. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said the jail has about 2,600 inmates housed there.
Worrell told News 6, this policy only applies to non-violent offenders and cases with victimless crimes. It excludes documented gang members or other known members of organized crime, people accused of committing violent crimes and registered sex offenders.
“What we don’t want is people sitting in custody pre trial, because they cant afford to get out of jail,” Worrell said.
Prosecutors are also being asked to consider alternatives to jail time for some non-violent offenders, like credit for time served.
“When we give someone an incarcerated sentence, we could also be giving them an unintended death sentence,” Worrell said. “And we should take that and handle it with the gravity that it deserves.”
Worrell has shared the policy with law enforcement partners and local elected officials and says she has gotten positive feedback.
The policy takes effect immediately.