Fox News falsely claims vaccine mandate will lead to inmates being released from jail

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Officials in Pima County, Arizona, have insisted they do not have the authority to release inmates from jails in response to staffing shortages.

On Thursday, Fox News promoted the false claim that a vaccine mandate for corrections officers in Pima County, Arizona, could lead to inmates being released from jails there. Local law enforcement officials have said this is untrue.

"Fox & Friends" co-host Ainsley Earhardt introduced the misleading segment.

"Vaccine mandates could be sending criminals back out on the streets," she claimed, without evidence. "The Pima County Adult Detention Center might be forced to release a number of nonviolent inmates if more corrections officers don't get vaccinated before the new year."

In the segment, Earhardt interviewed Michael Dominguez, president of the Sheriff's Labor Association of Pima County, who echoed Earhardt's inaccurate claims and called for the Pima County Board of Supervisors to "rescind" its vaccine mandate for county employees.

The entire segment was based on false information.

 

In November, the Board of Supervisors voted to require county employees who work with vulnerable populations to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 1, 2022. Since inmates in county jails are considered a vulnerable population, the requirement applies to officers working for the sheriff's department.

On Monday, Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos released a memo saying corrections staff must get vaccinated by the end of the year or face termination.

"The Board of Supervisors has an obligation to this community and by their decision, they are ensuring the public is safe," Nanos wrote.

Nanos emphasized that inmates would not be released if the department faces staffing shortages — directly contradicting Fox News' story — and said that "only the courts have that authority."

"You are being told that I will release hundreds of inmates to wreak havoc on the citizens of Pima County," Nanos wrote in the memo. "It's a legal fact; I cannot ... nor would I ... nor could the [Board of Supervisors] release inmates from the [Pima County Department of Corrections]. Only the courts have that authority."

Nanos said the department would make "operational changes" if faced with a staffing shortage in the new year, and reassured sheriff's department employees that "contingency plans" are in place "to ensure the jail population and all its employees will remain safe."

On Tuesday, Pima County Attorney Laura Conover directed local law enforcement agencies not to charge low-level drug offenders or send them to jail. But this is not a new policy: It was first put in place by Conover's predecessor in early 2020 — long before the county enacted its vaccine mandate for public employees.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Fox News has frequently misinformed viewers about the severity of the virus. Fox News hosts have repeatedly criticized the deployment of vaccines designed to curb the spread of the virus.

Almost 800,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.