Eight thousand inmates in California could be eligible for release by the end of August under new measures to reduce the prison population amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said that would create extra space needed for social distancing, Fox KTVU reported.
It’s a dire situation at California’s San Quentin Prison, where at least seven people have died and more than 1,800 inmates and staff have been infected with coronavirus.
In light of this, advocates urged Gov. Gavin Newsom to release more prisoners.
The current covid-19 outbreak at the prison is a drastic change from late May, when “San Quentin prison had zero confirmed cases of the virus among its around 4,000 inmates,” The Huffington Post reported. But the numbers spiked after more than 120 prisoners were transferred in from another facility in Chino — 25 of whom later tested positive for covid-19. Then an outbreak began that has grown to in recent weeks.
One San Quentin inmate described the conditions as “deplorable and uninhabitable,” while another said it’s “like hell,” Fox KTVU reported.
“I’m begging you to open your hearts to compassion and not politics,” one inmate wrote in a letter. “I’m begging you to hear us and please, Gavin Newsom, save our lives. We are dying in here.”
Some claim this could have been prevented if the prison had been more accepting of free covid testing for prisoners. But San Quentin prison officials turned down free tests for the coronavirus, Nature reported. Prisoner advocates complain the prison is not following strict guidelines.
“We have pushed for a scientific response from the very beginning,” said Brie Williams, the director of Amend, a group at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) that consults on health care at California’s prisons. “That science is being overshadowed by the politics of our society’s refusal to understand that it is not business as usual right now,” Williams told Nature.
San Quentin was unable to contain the outbreak.
By June 30, about one in three San Quentin prisoners had tested positive, along with 106 prison staff. Thirty prisoners were hospitalized, including 16 sent to ICUs, according to a recent filing in an ongoing lawsuit over healthcare in the California prison system. San Quentin now accounts for more than half the coronavirus cases in the state’s prisons, Mother Jones reported.
Infected prisoners are being put in isolation or treated in tents, while other prisoners who are healthy are locked down in crowded dormitories and cell blocks “in the overcrowded, poorly ventilated prison,” Mother Jones reported.
On July 6, Democratic Gov. Newsom said that his administration has been working on the issue “every single day for the last three weeks” and that it was a “top priority.” The governor said he planned to decrease the San Quentin prison population down to about 3,000 inmates over the “next few weeks” and he was “individually” reviewing cases.
The following day, state legislators and other officials, including San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin (D) and state Sen. Scott Wiener (D), called for Newsom to release “medically vulnerable” and aging inmates from San Quentin, as well as those “deemed a low risk to public safety.” They also urged the governor to “dramatically reduce” prison populations across the state to less than half of current capacity.
“There must be accountability,” assemblyman Marc Levine said at a press conference. “This is not acceptable in the state of California.”
The prisoners themselves are speaking out about conditions. Last week, 20 inmates at San Quentin went on a hunger strike to protest inhumane conditions amid the covid-19 pandemic.
Coronoavirus has ravaged most of California’s prisons with more than 5,000 confirmed coronavirus cases so far. At least 29 inmates have died, HuffPost reported.
To contain the spread, the state prison system has released 3,500 incarcerated people through “expedited” parole processes since March, according to the corrections department.
Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 73: Jamarlin Martin Jamarlin makes the case for why this is a multi-factor rebellion vs. just protests about George Floyd. He discusses the Democratic Party’s sneaky relationship with the police in cities and states under Dem control, and why Joe Biden is a cop and the Steve Jobs of mass incarceration.
The majority of the U.S. prison population is Black and brown. Activists are calling for not only a more humane response to the covid pandemic but for overall prison reform.
“As the pandemic drags on, Black and Brown communities are shouldering the majority of the deaths and the heartache – this is most clear in rural communities where epicenters have been inside prisons, jails, detention centers, meat and produce packaging plants and warehouse-style working conditions. These spaces all share the reality of being largely hidden from the public,” It’s Going Down reported.