The appearance of a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation vehicles at a Turlock hotel prompted a flurry of comments, concerns and rumors shared on social media sites and a message of clarification from Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse.
Social media posts started circulating Thursday stating buses had been seen at the Candlewood Suites in Turlock "unloading inmates shackled at hands and feet" that would be quarantined at the hotel. The post was shared multiple times with people routinely expressing concern and outrage and asking for a response from area law enforcement, which prompted Dirkse to address the issue.
"The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is releasing thousands of inmates early due to COVID 19," Dirkse wrote on a Facebook post. "Many of them are returning to Stanislaus County, their original home.
"If an inmate is COVID positive or has been exposed to COVID and does not have a place to quarantine or isolate CDCR offers them housing through ‘Project Hope.’ If they accept this offer, they are housed in local hotels throughout the state and in their original counties. The hotel in Turlock is one of them.
"This program has been in effect for a few months and several individuals have cycled through the hotel. There are usually only one or two there at any given time.
"Neither the Sheriff’s Office nor Stanislaus County has any control over this program. It is entirely run by the state," Dirkse wrote.
The CDCR describes Project Hope as a program that "was created to protect people releasing from prison during the COVID-19 pandemic and the California communities to which they are returning." It's available for incarcerated people whose release dates were expedited as part of CDCR’s efforts to increase physical distancing in state prisons and for people returning to the community on their natural release date.
Local public health departments are notified of people releasing with active COVID-19 and those who are being released while on quarantine.
Patients who are in isolation at a CDCR facility due to active contagious COVID-19 infection will remain isolated and will not have their release date expedited until their case is resolved. Patients who are in quarantine due to being exposed to COVID-19 will be offered testing no more than seven days before release. Those who test positive will be isolated and will not have their release date expedited until their case is resolved.
"Those who test negative will have their release expedited but will be referred to Project Hope with a medical recommendation for a 14-day quarantine period," the CDCR wrote on their website. "They will be transported to their county of last legal residence and will not be permitted to take public transportation.
"If someone refuses Project Hope and does not have an approved residence where they can quarantine, they will remain in custody for a 14-day quarantine, at which time if they are asymptomatic, they will be released with no further recommendations to quarantine."
Project Hope's eligibility criteria excludes some people, including those required to register under sex offense laws, those convicted of arson and those who have been ordered to undergo long-term mental health treatment.
Once individuals have completed the 14-day quarantined as part of Project Hope, they will continue with their reentry program.
Costs for Project Hope are reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency pursuant to the state-federal cost share.