ORLANDO, Fla. — The top prosecutor for Orange and Osceola counties late Thursday confirmed the gradual release of 300 inmates amid concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors.

  • Release of inmates wasn't immediate
  • COVID-19 pandemic among concerns 
  • Helping "low-level" offenders an issue

Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s office released a statement saying the “300 inmates have not been released simultaneously” and dangerous ones remain behind bars.

It didn’t say when the inmates were released. It also wasn’t clear if the inmates were released from jails in Orange or Osceola or a combination of both. Jails across Florida and the country have cautiously released low-risk inmates to reduce the possible spread of coronavirus infections among inmates and staffers.

In Central Florida, the Lake County Jail on March 18 confirmed the release of 44 inmates. The next day, fhe Volusia County Branch Jail in Daytona Beach confirmed the release of 88 inmates.

In Thursday’s unsigned statement from Ayala’s office, it noted several reasons behind the releases, including an effort launched in February to help suspects accused of minor and non-violent crimes with bail.

Ayala and Orange-Osceola Public Defender Bob Wesley joined high-profile attorney Matt Morgan on February 20 to announce The Community Bail Fund, a non-profit to help provide bail for low-income individuals charged with non-violent offenses.

Roughly 76 percent of inmates haven’t been convicted of crimes but they remain behind bars because they can’t afford bail, supporters of the fund say. As a result, minorities and poor people are incarcerated in disproportionately higher numbers than the general population.

Officials say jail populations are also naturally on the decline because of the 11 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfews imposed to help fight COVID-19. People are largely complying with the curfews, officials say, and that’s led to fewer arrests.

“The fact that there are 300 fewer inmates in our jails involves a variety of factors including initiatives being undertaken by my office to ensure that low-level offenders who simply can't pay their bond or otherwise don't need to be housed in the jail during this pandemic are released with conditions,” the statement from Ayala’s office said.

“In addition, since the shelter-in-place order was established, crime in both Orange and Osceola counties is down overall and there have been fewer arrests,” the statement added.  “When weighing public safety against keeping our jail workers and inmates safe from COVID-19, my office is working to ensure that individuals who pose a safety risk remain in jail.”