Open Letter to the Lawmakers and Citizens of California Regarding COVID-19 Pandemic in the Prisons
On March 24th 2020 Governor Newsom Issued an Executive Order N-36-20 on State Prisons and Juvenile Facilities in Response to the COVID-19 Outbreak. This order was accepted for the next 30 days. The order included the suspension of transfer from Jails to Prison, and from Reception Centers to Housing units. The Governor allowed for the Secretary of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations (CDCR), Secretary Ralph Diaz, to grant one more 30 Day extension, to the suspension of transfers, and to continue order, as necessary to protect the safety, and welfare of the incarcerated population, staff, and community. A decision was made to resume transfers from Jails to Prisons, and from Reception to Housing units by CDCR, but later announced on April 24th the suspension of intake from county jails extended to May 25th, 2020. On May 29th, 2020, CDCR announces 1,928 inmates had been transferred to alternate institutions to create physical distancing; 331 transferred within their local institutions, without prior notice (see the CDCR timeline).
By this time several prisons had already been declared hot spots, due to the rapid outbreak of Covid-19. The first case of an incarcerated individual began at Lancaster State Prison on March 22, 2020. Although there was already a positive test on March 22nd, CDCR did not begin temperature screenings for all entering prisons and community correctional facilities, until March 27, 2020 (Information can also be verified on their timeline). Lancaster State Prison, Chino Institution for Men, and Chino Institution for Women, were among the first to have cases and quickly become hot spots. Despite efforts from concerned family members, advocates, and outside organizers to raise awareness and insure the safety of our incarcerated population, staff, community, the necessary safety precautions were not taken. It was not until or around April 6th that information on PPE was provided for both staff and the inmate population.
Some institutions received PPE around that time, and others much later. It was not until April 15th, that Secretary Diaz, announced cloth face coverings were required (Not Mandatory) information also on the CDCR timeline for the institutional staff and incarcerated population. Regardless of having someone testing positive in Lancaster since March 22, 2020, they did not begin mass testing until April 18th, 2020. As you can see in the timeline provided by CDCR themselves, Mandatory staff testing for COVID-19 did not begin at California Institution for Men (CIM) and Avenal State Prison (ASP), until May 26th, 2020. By this time it was too late. Cases among institutions were on the rise, and Chino Institution for Men had already had their 9th death.
On May 30th, 2020, In one of the most recent careless, and reckless, actions by CDCR, 121 men from Chino Institution for Men were transferred to San Quentin, Corcoran, and possibly other institutions (We say possibly, because this transfer was not recorded on their timeline (See documentation in the article from the Appeal: In the Middle of a Pandemic, Prisoners from San Quentin Are Punished for Being Sick).
As of June 26th, 2020, San Quentin now has over 600 confirmed COVID-19 cases of incarcerated individuals, including confirmed cases in East Block, which is Death Row, not including 100 staff confirmed cases. This negligence can no longer continue, and honestly should not have begun with in the first place. We ask that you consider this matter Urgent, before more lives are put at risk, and lost.
Assembly member Levine of Marin County, the district were San Quentin is located, expressed raising Red flags about the lack of clarity, and plan from CDCR, he also expressed making suggestions, that were blatantly ignored. We urge you to join his efforts in holding CDCR accountable in protecting our incarcerated population, its staff, and members of the surrounding communities. This is a public safety emergency that needs your immediate attention. Assembly member Levine Addressed Secretary Ralph Diaz, and Acting Warden Broomfield, in a letter expressing his concerns. Here are the suggestions that Assembly Member Levine has made to CDCR, and the Governor:
1. To appoint an epidemiologist with decision making authority to lead infection containment.
2. Develop a specific plan to coordination efforts with county public health offices for any of the 35 state prisons under the jurisdiction of CDCR (Questions should be asked, around how other counties feel about receiving transfers from positive locations).
And we would add a third important measure:
3. An immediate halt on any transfers until this issue can be resolved, to prevent the further spread, and loss of human life.
It is unfair to Prison Staff, Warden’s, an incarcerated population, that have followed all possible measures to remain free from Covid 19, that these transfers continue. Transfers are not the solution. Transfers are simply passing on the problem of overcrowding to a different institution. The real solution is a strategized plan to release 50 percent of the population. There are thousands of men and women, which are currently qualified to be released in to society. CDCR has delayed this from happening, by delaying the process and implementing of these measures that they were authorized to enact due to Three-Judge Court, and regulations such as Prop 57. We also encourage that you propose new legislation that will assist in reducing the prison population, be pushed forward through emergency action. This would include AB160, SB 3160, ARC 186, and any legislation that supports prison reduction.
The governor also has the power to reduce the prison population. Unfortunately Governor Newsom, has not displayed interest in this area. We also understand that there is obviously things that he is unaware of, such as the illegitimate transfers that have been without him or anyone being aware of, such as transfers from San Quentin to California Correctional Center Susanville (CCC) early this month, where there are now 213 positive cases reported. These transfer were not recorded, and in an article from The Sacramento Bee, it was expressed CDCR declined to comment on these transfers. The population that has been recently released, where people that had already been identified, and had approaching release dates. Some of the people had also been previously qualified, either through commutation, and pardons, that had been sitting on the governor’s desk for months. By reviewing, expediting, and granting more pardons, commutations, and considering individuals with Life without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP), and violent offenders that have served at least 20 years on their sentence, and setting up an emergency Board of Parole Team, we can drastically reduce the population, along with the suggestions made in the past, to release the elderly, the immunocompromised, and nonviolent offenders.
There have been other suggestions that have been made to reduce the population but unfortunately the suggestions always fail to include the mentioned above, who are usually the most deserving of coming home, and less likely to reoffend.
Senator Skinner has also joined this cause, and has expressed her concerns by calling for an emergency Oversight Hearing. The Committee on Public Safety will hold an oversight hearing on the Covid-19 outbreak in California prisons on Wednesday, July 1, 2020 (https://spsf.senate.ca.gov/). The hearing will focus on the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) current and future plans for handling of the outbreak, which has now spread to at least 19 state correctional facilities.
We urge you to join Assembly Member Levine, and Senator Skinner, in demanding accountability, and a plan to protect our incarcerated population, staff, and communities from the spread of Covid 19. It is obvious that despite what might be well intended measures, they have been proven to be reckless and unsuccessful. For years we have cried out to Secretary Ralph Diaz, in an effort to bridge the gap between CDCR, and family members, and advocates of the incarcerated population, all to be ignored, and dismissed. All we demand is transparency and involvement. The fact of the matter is that we need experts to intervene in both health matters, and prison reduction, and what better experts than those Incarcerated, Family Members, and Community organizers? We should always be involved and informed of changes occurring, before they occur, so we can voice our opinion, concerns, and hopefully prevent unfortunate mistakes from being made. What better experts to make suggestions than those living through the situation itself? In the words of Assembly member Levine, “Dangerous and potentially deadly errors have been made by CDCR and San Quentin leadership who have shown themselves unable to contain this outbreak”.
This is not only a San Quentin, or Marin County Matter, this is a Nationwide Public Safety matter.
Thank you for your time, dedication, and service. We look forward to your engagement and support in creating steps to protect our incarcerated people, as well as step towards releasing people out of prison altogether, during this emergency crisis.
Families of Incarcerated People
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