Prison’s Covid-19 cases called ‘epidemiological disaster’
San Quentin State Prison has been ordered by the First District Appellate Court to halve its inmate population in light of what has been characterized by the court as “the worst epidemiological disaster in California correctional history,” according to a report by the San Jose Mercury News.
The judges say that San Quentin failed to heed the June suggestion of public health experts to reduce their population by half to avoid further contagion. The California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation has been lambasted for its handling of the Covid-19 epidemic as pertains to inmates, especially at San Quentin where nearly 3,000 virus infections and 29 coronavirus-related deaths have occurred.
In June of this year, San Quentin’s inmate population was reportedly 3,547. To align with the mandate of the court, that number would need to be reduced to 1,775.
The ruling not only encourages the early release of some inmates including provisions to free those over 60-years-old. The court also condones transferring inmates to other facilities that are “able to provide the necessary physical distancing” reports the San Jose Mercury News. Though San Quentin officials took some measures to facilitate social distancing like setting up outdoor tents on its recreation yards and keeping some inmates isolated in their cells, the tactics, by and large failed.
An email written by CDCR spokeswoman Dana Simas claims that, despite the criticism, the “CDCR has taken extensive actions to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March, the department has released more than 22,000 persons, resulting in the lowest prison population in decades,” said Simas, who also added, “As of today, CDCR’s COVID-19 cases are the lowest they have been since May (477 cases reported today, and over 14,000 resolved), with San Quentin recording only one new case among the incarcerated population in nearly a month.”
The court’s decision could be appealed to the California Supreme Court.