By CBSLA Staff

SANTA ANA (CBSLA) — A judge has ordered the Orange County jail population to be cut in half so that inmates can properly social distance and abide by coronavirus safety protocols.

On Friday, Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson ruled 1,858 inmates must be released from the Orange County jail to reduce the population by 50%. The jail currently houses 3,716 inmates.

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But law enforcement said the decision is putting the safety of the public at risk.

“These aren’t low-lying offenders,” said Sheriff Don Barnes of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. “These are people in for very serious offenses, like murder, attempted murder, and domestic violence.”

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the sheriff over concerns about inmates spreading COVID-19 in congregated living areas. Judge Wilson sided with the ACLU, saying conditions in the jail do not permit proper social distancing.

“The public should be in a panic and they should be concerned about this release,” said Barnes.

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Several hundred of the inmates are considered medically vulnerable, based on guidelines set by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. Out of the 700 inmates in this category, 59 are in for murder, 39 for attempted murder, and 90 for child molestation and a litany of other crimes, Sheriff Barnes said.

More than 1,300 inmates have already been released since the pandemic began. Sheriff Barnes is appealing the court’s order.

The judge gave Barnes a deadline of December 30 to come up with a list of inmates to be released. Barnes said he has no intention of creating that list.

“If this judge is going to order the release of people entrusted in my care who I believe present a significant threat to the public, he will have to identify each one of them by name and order their release pursuant to his authority, not mine,” added Barnes.

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Barnes said a week ago no one in the jail tested positive for COVID-19. On Monday, there were 416 positive tests.