CDCR begins accepting inmates after pausing because of COVID-19 uptick in prisons

Local law enforcement officials say it could take months to address the backlog of hundreds of jail inmates in need of transfer


By Ishani Desai
The Bakersfield Californian
        
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — State prison officials confirmed two facilities in Kern County can start taking prisoners again, as local law enforcement officials worked last week to address a backlog of hundreds of state inmates in need of transfer who are being housed in local jails.

Both police and sheriff's officials recently shared the challenges created by the COVID-19-related capacity restrictions, which include not being able to house a number of their suspects, among other obstacles.

Wasco State Prison suspended intake on Dec. 29; North Kern State Prison on Jan. 10, according to an email from Alia Cruz, a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman.

This undated photo provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows an aerial view of North Kern State Prison near Delano, Calif.
This undated photo provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows an aerial view of North Kern State Prison near Delano, Calif. (AP Photo/California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

As of Friday, 173 inmates awaited transfer to the CDCR and 171 prisoners waited to go to the Department of State Hospitals from local jails, said KCSO Undersheriff Doug Jauch.

Jauch said the CDCR has about 95,000 inmates throughout its system. In 2020, he added, the data shows roughly 125,000 prisoners occupied the CDCR facilities. Therefore, the department has the space to quarantine inmates and take preventative measures, Kern's undersheriff said.

Cruz said CDCR follows public health and health care guidance when determining intake suspensions. Furthermore, the prison system accounts for transporting prisoners throughout the state. An inmate must quarantine for 10 days before being taken to another facility and be tested within 24 hours of their arrival, among other safety measures, according to the CDCR's guidelines for inmate movement.

However, on average, KCSO said deputies arrest about 55 people per day. Jauch said their backlog will vanish, but it could take months until the inmate population is under control, in addition to creating local public safety concerns.

The KCSO must ensure its capacity does not exceed 90 percent of its population limit, Jauch said. To meet this guideline, deputies regularly cite and release non-violent offenders to ensure their facility doesn't violate the law, Jauch added. Suspects receive a citation to appear in court rather than wait in jail.

"(Suspending inmate intake) severely impacts our already limited and finite number of housing available for new arrests," Danielle Kernkamp, a spokeswoman for the Kern County Sheriff's Office, said in an email. "We also are dealing with the same COVID concerns and enacted protocols to limit the spread of COVID."

After the state prison's temporary intake stoppage, the Bakersfield Police Department shared the story of an offender arrested less than 24 hours after his first apprehension.

"It's not ideal," Jauch said, regarding the move. "Because, quite frankly, it does put people back in the community that shouldn't be there. And, they can go out there and reoffend."

COVID-19 swamped many Kern County prisons. According to data provided by the CDCR, Wasco State Prison totaled 4,121 COVID-19 cases and two deaths from causes related to COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

The number of COVID-19 cases at Wasco State Prison is the second-highest in the entire CDCR system. Current prison population is 3,324 inmates.

North Kern State Prison has had 2,799 cases, and five people have died from causes related to COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to the CDCR. Its population is 3,644 prisoners.

Additionally, Wasco State Prison has the lowest vaccination percentage of inmates within the entire CDCR system. Exactly 51 percent of prisoners have gotten inoculated against COVID-19. North Kern State Prison has the second lowest vaccination rate, with 60 percent of inmates getting the jab, according to CDCR data.

Furthermore, 67 percent and 69 percent of staff are vaccinated at Wasco State Prison and North Kern State Prison, respectively.

"They're trying to minimize the effects of COVID on their inmate population. Well, they have the ability to isolate," Jauch added. "We don't have that same luxury. We don't test people out in the street before we come to take them to jail. Whether (offenders) have COVID or not, we have to arrest them and bring them to jail, if they have qualifying charges."

(c)2022 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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