Essential services at the Santa Barbara County Probation Department are still being conducted, such as compliance checks, even as staff have indefinitely reduced to a "core" group of personnel amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a spokeswoman said on Monday.
The core group of County Probation staff, which includes sworn and non-sworn officers, are still conducting home compliance checks and requiring supervised individuals to check in with their officers, said spokeswoman Liz Krene.
Additionally, Probation staff are anticipating an increase in pretrial services for individuals in criminal cases who are arrested and placed on electronic monitoring.
Pretrial detainees are less likely to languish in jail, depending on the severity of their crimes, for an extended period of time while their court cases are on hold, Krene said.
Detainees are screened with questions about prior travel to determine if they may have been exposed to the coronavirus.
Krene wasn't able to say if any staff or supervised individuals have tested positive for the coronavirus or whether they have been tested.
The Public Defender's Office on Tuesday called for the release of at-risk jail inmates -- those aged 65 and over or with underlying medical conditions.
Attorneys have secured the release of at least five inmates whose release would have occurred earlier had it not been for the Superior Court's reduction in services on March 17, according to Deputy Public Defender Lea Villegas.
At least 18 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Santa Barbara County since March 15, according to public health officials.
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday issued a stay-at-home order, allowing only essential travel and businesses to operate.
Supervised individuals, including sex offenders, are still required to check in with their probation officers, despite the closure of some reception desks at county facilities to limit the exposure of the coronavirus.
In-person check-ins are still allowed, although social distancing is being maintained and supervised individuals are encouraged to call a number to check in, Krene said.
Probation officials are discussing expanding access to electronic check-ins.
Home compliance checks are still conducted based on priority of risk level, or whether an individual is at low, medium or high risk of violating their supervision terms, and officers are still required to maintain social distancing during home checks, particularly with a resident who is at-risk of coronavirus, Krene said.
Additionally, normal staffing levels are being maintained at juvenile hall and Los Prietos Boys Camp.
Probation staff who are able to conduct business from home are encouraged to do so to maintain social distancing.
At least 50 people have been identified as prioritized for release and among those, five people have been secured for release with the agreement of the District Attorney's Office, said Deputy Public Defender Lea Villegas.
The inmates would have likely been released last week had it not been for the court closure, Villegas added.
County District Attorney Joyce Dudley said no inmates with existing sentences will be released for the time being.
"If I am called upon to weigh in on such a decision, ensuring public safety and justice for all remain my two highest priorities," Dudley said.
The Sheriff's Office, which is in charge of the early release program, said inmates "have and continue" to be released, said spokeswoman Raquel Zick.
The Sheriff's Office said patrol deputies have been encouraged to exercise discretion when making arrests because of the coronavirus, Zick said.
However, Villegas said her office is still seeing people who have been arrested and can't afford bail.
It's not clear how many have been or will be released. A follow-up email seeking comment from the Sheriff's Office wasn't immediately returned.
Effective Tuesday, the Superior Court will hear only in-custody arraignment cases, and all other matters -- including traffic, criminal and civil cases -- originally scheduled between March 17 and April 3 must be rescheduled, according to spokesman Darrel Parker.
Juvenile courts in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara will remain open, Parker added.
The order prevents pretrial detainees from asking for bail reductions, personal cognizant releases and prevents inmates from being released at sentencing in accordance with their plea agreements, Macuga said.
Some high risk inmates are being held in custody for low-level offenses such as driving on a suspended license and are presumed innocent, Macuga said.
"An outbreak in the jail is inevitable," Macuga said. "It is likely to spread quickly, endangering inmates and staff in the jail, and our community at large."
Social distancing inside the Main Jail won't work because inmates eat, sleep and shower in shared living spaces, Macuga said.
The Sheriff's Office suspended jail visitations effective March 14 until further notice and is encouraging frequent hand-washing among inmates, said Zick.
Indigent inmates rely on a "fish kit," or hygiene kit — which contains a pencil, razor, toothbrush, toothpaste and a small bar of soap used for showering and hand washing — and is issued every seven days.
The bar of soap is reported to be small, roughly two-inches by one-half of an inch, according to Senior Deputy Public Defender Mark Saatjian.
There is no shampoo for inmates to use, Saatjian added.
The Sheriff's Office Civil Unit, which is responsible for enforcing evictions ordered by the Superior Court, has suspended evictions for an indefinite period of time.
Also on Tuesday, Superior Court Presiding Judge Michael Carrozzo signed an order indefinitely suspending all court matters except for in-custody arraignment hearings, juvenile cases and emergency orders.
The coronavirus outbreak, which was declared a pandemic on March 11, has sickened at least eight people in Santa Barbara County since Sunday, according to public health officials.
Santa Barbara County Superior Court officials on Wednesday ordered the closure of its clerks' offices, shutting down public access for at least one week in an effort to minimize potential exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
Court clerks' offices in all County Superior Court locations were ordered closed from March 19 to March 27 as a measure to contain the spread of coronavirus, although some filings are still being accepted electronically and at court drop boxes, spokesman Darrel Parker said.
The clerks' offices will still accept electronic filings for civil, family and probate cases through www.sbcourts.org.
Parties representing themselves are being encouraged to e-file but can also submit filings at most court locations by using designated drop boxes.
Drop boxes are located in Santa Maria at 312 E. Cook St., in Lompoc at 115 Civic Center Plaza and in Santa Barbara at 1100 Anacapa St.
As of Friday afternoon, the Superior Court's IT division was working to provide remote public access to court filings, although details weren't immediately available, said Carrie Taylor, Parker's executive assistant.
It's the latest reduction in county court services to contain the coronavirus outbreak, which was declared a pandemic March 11.
Three cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Santa Barbara County since Sunday, bringing the total number of cases to nine, according to public health officials.
Superior Court Presiding Judge Michael Carrozzo on March 12 signed an order to close nearly all courtrooms and to reschedule all calendared cases from March 17 to April 3.
Only arraignment hearings for in-custody defendants are currently taking place.
One courtroom each in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara will remain open to address emergency orders.
Temporary restraining orders scheduled to expire between March 17 and April 15 will be extended for 30 days from their original date, court officials said.
Juvenile cases are still conducted in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara, although appearances for the minor and parents in dependency matters are being waived.
Appearances for minors and parents in delinquency matters are determined on a case-by-case basis, officials said.
Jurors scheduled for the weeks of March 16 and March 23 won't be scheduled to appear and were given credit for one year.
If jurors are summoned for a future date, they can check their status online at juryservice.sbcourts.org or call toll-free 855-955-1103.
The Santa Barbara County Superior Court on Tuesday opened up the application process for volunteers who are interested in a yearlong commitment to the 2020-21 civil grand jury, which investigates various aspects of local government, including cities and county special districts.
Principal functions of civil grand jurors include investigation and review of the departments and special districts of county and city governments, involvement in fiscal and management audits and preparing reports on related matters, according to Darrell Parker, Superior Court executive officer.
In the past, grand jurors have investigated the Main Jail, schools. community services districts and even local ballot initiatives.
Civil grand jury reports are usually filed with recommendations for improvement of operations.
To be considered for grand jury service, an applicant must be 18 years or older, a U.S. citizen, of good character, a resident of Santa Barbara County for a least one year and never convicted of a felony, or malfeasance in office or official misconduct while serving as a public employee.
This year's grand jury term begins July 1 and will continue through June 30, 2021, and jurors work about 25 hours per week.
The Sheriff's Office on Tuesday notified the public that 12 of its employees — four custody deputies, a general services employee, two contracted Wellpath Healthcare employees and five civilian sheriff's employees — came in close contact with a colleague infected with the coronavirus on March 12, according to spokeswoman Raquel Zick.
The patient, a civilian jail employee and resident of San Luis Obispo County, recently returned from Europe and sought medical attention after becoming ill at work. The employee later tested positive for the coronavirus and now is under self-quarantine, Zick said.
All 12 employees were evaluated by medical staff and did not show symptoms but were, nonetheless, told to self-isolate at home by local health officials.
In an unrelated incident, a San Luis Obispo County-based attorney who became ill after working in a Santa Maria courtroom on March 12 has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Zick.
Those who were present in the courtroom on the same day, including a sheriff's bailiff, showed no symptoms but were instructed by the court to seek medical evaluations.
Following evaluation, the bailiff was told to self-isolate.
The attorney's client, a defendant who is an inmate at the Santa Barbara County Mail Jail, and another inmate who shared the same jail cell were both rehoused in a negative-pressure location, or cell that allows air in but not back out, Zick said.
Both inmates showed no symptoms, but their housing area was thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, and they will continue to be monitored by jail medical staff.
In an effort to limit exposure to the virus, sheriff's officials have taken several steps.
For several weeks, jail staff have used a screening procedure recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when booking inmates, including asking questions regarding travel, known contact with a positive coronavirus case and taking the person's temperature, Zick said.
Inmates and staff were advised by sheriff's officials to "stay healthy" by frequently cleaning touched services, washing hands with soap and water, social distancing when possible, and covering coughs and sneezes.
Jail staff are regularly disinfecting housing areas, while sheriff's staff are disinfecting their buses and vans at least twice a day, Zick said.
Patrol deputies have been issued personal protection equipment, and jail staff have an inventory available if suspected or confirmed cases arise.
If an inmate tests positive for the coronavirus, jail staff will isolate that individual.