The central jail on Front Street in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

A lawsuit seeking to either reduce or vaccinate San Diego County’s jail population amid the COVID-19 pandemic was filed Wednesday.

The lawsuit filed against San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore seeks to reduce the incarcerated population to levels that will allow for social distancing or provide widespread vaccinations. The suit comes one day after sheriff’s officials announced that 46 people tested positive for COVID-19 at the George Bailey Detention Facility in Otay Mesa.

Sheriff’s officials could not immediately be reached for comment regarding the lawsuit, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Community Advocates for Just & Moral Governance; and the Singleton, Schreiber, McKenzie & Scott law firm.

“Sheriff Gore has a statutory duty and a moral obligation to ensure the safety of people who are trusted to his care, but he has a long and troubling history of shirking this duty and failing to meet his obligations,” said ACLU attorney Jonathan Markovitz.

“Vaccines offer a glimmer of hope for the future, but as we continue to learn of ever more virulent and potentially deadly variants of the virus that causes COVID-19, common sense precautions are more important than ever. Tuesday’s report of a dramatic escalation in positive cases provides stark evidence of the consequences for the sheriff’s failure to implement basic safety measures,” he said.

There have been more than 1,200 positive cases within the county’s jail system since the pandemic began, according to the ACLU.

Brody McBride, a partner with Singleton, Schreiber, McKenzie & Scott, said, “Jails are pandemic hotbeds, ripe for COVID-19 outbreaks” due to the close living quarters and frequent transfers of inmates between facilities.

“The San Diego Sheriff’s Department has been on notice of this reality since early 2020, yet the number of jail staff and inmates hit with COVID-19 continues to rise,” McBride said.

Genevieve Jones-Wright, executive director at Community Advocates for Just & Moral Governance, said, “Our carceral system had issues before COVID-19, but the virus has magnified and exacerbated the issues present in our jails. We all must be clear on this fact — incarcerated people are people. Their lives have value.”

“The human beings in our jails have not been sentenced to death and should not fear a death sentence because they are locked up. This is a moral issue. This is about our standards of human decency as much as it is about public health, ” she added.

— City News Service contributed to this article

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