Calif. to expedite parole as San Quentin prison’s COVID-19 cases increase
Inmates who have 180 days or fewer left to serve on their sentences will be eligible for expedited parole
By Richard Halstead
The Marin Independent Journal
SAN QUENTIN, Calif. — California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials announced plans this week to release more inmates early as positive tests for COVID-19 at San Quentin State Prison continue to climb.
In a statement announcing the move, the Department of Corrections wrote that it is implementing a new community supervision program that “will create increased capacity and space to help with inmate movement, physical distancing and isolation efforts.”
Inmates who have 180 days or fewer left to serve on their sentences will be eligible for expedited parole, however, that will not include prisoners sentenced for domestic violence, a violent or serious crime as defined by law, or registered sex offenders.
Inmates will be offered testing for COVID-19 within seven days of their anticipated release. The Department of Corrections will work with anyone who tests positive to find them housing where they can be safely isolated and monitored. Implementation of the plan begins July 1.
Michael Bien, a San Francisco lawyer who has litigated for increased mental health care for inmates, said, “We’ve been urging them to get back to population reduction; something they had done earlier on was accelerated releases. It’s still far too crowded.
“What you’re seeing at San Quentin is exactly what we’d always feared,” Bien said. “Once infected people are in the prison there simply is not enough room to quarantine inmates and keep the virus from spreading.”
As of Wednesday, 47 inmates and 16 employees at San Quentin had tested positive according to county and state health officials. At least one inmate has been transported to MarinHealth Medical Center for treatment. The first positive test came on June 1.
According to the corrections department’s website, as of Wednesday there were 2,119 inmates with active cases of the coronavirus statewide and 295 department employees with active cases. So far, the virus has claimed the lives of 17 inmates.
The first cases at San Quentin were among some 121 inmates that were transferred to San Quentin from the California Institution of Men in Chino on May 10. More recently, however, at least two members of the general population have also tested positive. The inmates were moved from the Chino prison because a major outbreak is occurring there and prison officials wanted to clear space.
The Chino prison had confirmed 794 cases, including 491 active cases in custody and 15 deaths on Wednesday. The inmates who were transferred to San Quentin were considered to be at higher risk for complications due to comorbidities.
These inmates were tested prior to the move but Marin Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis, who is advising San Quentin on how to respond to its outbreak, has said the testing should have been done closer to the transfer date.
Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-Greenbrae, has called on the Department of Corrections to appoint an epidemiologist to oversee efforts at the prison and “immediately set up an incident command to manage this emergency” and “develop and release a COVID-19 containment and prevention plan for the prison site.”
“We must take immediate action before local hospitals are overwhelmed by California Department of Corrections’ potentially fatal mistakes,” Levine wrote in a statement this week.
Jamie Maites, a spokeswoman for MarinHealth Medical Center, said confidentiality laws prevent her from disclosing whether any San Quentin inmates are currently being cared for at the hospital.
“The state has arrangements with several healthcare organizations to care for inmates,” Maites wrote in a statement. “MarinHealth Medical Center is one of those organizations. We have and will continue to treat urgent and emergent health needs of those who are incarcerated at San Quentin. These patients are always accompanied by guards from the prison and are appropriately supervised.”
Willis said once inmates’ urgent needs are attended to, they would likely be transferred to Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco if they require longer-term care.
On Wednesday, several San Quentin inmates spoke about their fears during an internet press conference hosted by Re:store Justice, a Los Angeles-based prison reform group.
“Both North Block and West Block are filled with elderly and chronically ill people,” said Adamu Chan, who has been incarcerated at San Quentin for over 10 years. “If COVID begins to spread in those units, there will be death.”
Rahsaan Thomas, who is serving a 15-year-to-life sentence for second-degree murder with a 35-year enhancement for using a firearm, said, “Some of my favorite people are the elderly population … I don’t want to see them die, and I don’t know if I’m tough enough to survive COVID.”
Kerry Rudd, who has served more than five years of his 11-year sentence for first-degree burglary, said, “As a human being sentenced to prison, I lost certain rights. But I did not lose my Eighth Amendment right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment.
Incarcerated prisoners are not being given this right,” Rudd said, “when they’re forced to endure the psychological and physical torment of living in a crowded COVID-19 hotbed.”
©2020 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)