LA Prisoners Tried to Give Themselves Coronavirus to Get Early Release

Some prisoners in Los Angeles area prisons appear to be trying to contract the coronavirus intentionally in new security footage published by TMZ. Authorities claim these prisoners believe they will be released from prison early if they come down with COVID-19. However, the prisoners will still be expected to serve the remainders of their sentences.

The L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva confirmed on Monday that inmates in Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic, California appear to have been spreading the coronavirus among themselves intentionally. Footage of an incident from mid-April appears to show about 22 prisoners in one area, all gathering around close together, hugging, shaking hands and speaking with their faces close. They were reportedly passing around a cup of hot water and a face mask that an infected man had worn, hoping to share one case of coronavirus between them.

Villanueva said that these men likely believed that catching COVID-19 would be a get-out-of-jail free card. While it might grant them a temporary reprieve, it won't get them out for good. He further adds that the men in the video all lived on one cell block together, and apparently conspired to spread coronavirus among themselves on purpose. Out of the 50 of them, 21 reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.

Still, Villanueva told TMZ these inmates "won't catch a break," apparently meaning they will still have to serve out their sentences eventually. The inmates reportedly hoped that their illness would garner some sympathy from a judge, and perhaps earn them a chance to spend some time on house arrest rather than behind bars.

In general, prisons are "amplifiers of infectious diseases such as the coronavirus," according to PrisonPolicy.org. The close quarters and shared spaces make it likely that prisoners will share any illnesses between them, and prisoners are typically not given access to cleaning products to disinfect things for themselves.

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The advocacy group is tracking information on how different prison systems are responding to the coronavirus pandemic, and how much danger prisoners are in. The website's latest update notes that Virginia and North Dakota have both released about 100 people each from state prisons in the hopes of cutting down the risk of spreading coronavirus. Meanwhile, all but three states have suspended medical co-pays for prisoners. They are Nevada, Hawaii and Delaware.

For the latest on the coronavirus pandemic, visit the websites of the CDC and the World Health Organization.