The Superior Court of Santa Clara County has amnesty granted to 1,600 people who were ordered to serve their sentences under the sheriff’s weekend work program, the court heard Wednesday.
Chief Criminal Judge Eric Geffon granted amnesty on January 13 to defendants who have been convicted or have not contested most of the offenses. The amnesty covers the period between March 17, 2020 and May 1, 2021, according to a statement issued by the court.
The sheriff’s work program allows defendants sentenced to the county jail to perform community service instead of incarceration. The work schedule was temporarily halted after advice from the county health official March 16, 2020, arrested “shelter in place”, which required residents to stay at home except when engaging in permitted activities. Due to the health crisis, the defendants were unable to begin or complete their sentences.
Prison inmates and employees were particularly at risk from COVID-19 due to the lockdown. Dr. Alexander Chyorny, Medical Director of the Adult Custodial Health Division of the Santa Clara Valley Health System, and County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody advised the criminal justice system that reducing the prison population was key to limiting the viral outbreak among staff and inmates. The county also sought to limit gatherings at the re-entry center as part of the sheriff’s work schedule, according to the court order.
The court granted Sheriff Laurie Smith authority to credit individuals who participated in or were assigned to the program prior to March 17, 2020, during the period the program was not in effect. While she gave credit to attendees who were already in the program, she did not give credit to those who had been pre-booked or had drop-out dates during the program’s closure.
“As such, many individuals who the Court has found suitable to participate in the Sheriff’s Work Program, but who could not do so while the program was not operating, did not receive credit, and as a result , have outstanding prison terms,” Geffon notes in his order.
According to the order, effective immediately, sentences will be deemed served or completed for anyone who falls between March 17, 2020 and May 1, 2021 and who meets the following criteria: those who were to pre-book or surrender to custody from the sheriff’s office with a recommendation for the work program; and anyone already completing their sentence under the work program between the relevant dates, but who was unable to complete their sentence because the program was not working. People who were already in the program were credited by the sheriff based on a separate court order, according to the announcement.
The court also withdrew arrest warrants based on failure to pre-book or attend the work program or for not completing the work program due to program closure.
The order does not apply to anyone sentenced to serve time in the county jail and ordered to go directly to the county jail between March 17, 2020 and May 1, 2021, the court noted.
“The Superior Court greatly appreciates the cooperative efforts of the District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Independent Advocate’s Office, County Council, and Pretrial Services Department for their agreement on this matter and their assistance. to make this possible,” Geffon said in the court announcement.