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Coronavirus prompts jails to free hundreds of prisoners to stop spread

It started with a trickle.

Fearing that the coronavirus could wreak havoc once inside densely packed jails, local officials across the country quietly began releasing some of their most vulnerable, including the elderly and chronically ill.

The goal, said National Sheriffs’ Association president Sheriff Daron Hall, was to reduce the risk both to prisoners and officers, while freeing up necessary space to quarantine other inmates who may become infected.

Dozens set free during the first wave of releases early this month have now become hundreds, as state and local governments have accelerated their efforts in recent weeks to guard highly susceptible prison populations, and the staff working there, against the spread of the deadly virus.

In Cleveland, officials have moved more than 700 prisoners out of the Cuyahoga County Jail in less than two weeks; near Oakland, California, more than 250 have been set free; in Nashville, Tennessee, up to 300 have been released; and across New Jersey, hundreds of prisoners were expected to exit county jails this week under an order issued by Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner.

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