Open Letter to the Lawmakers and Citizens of California Regarding COVID-19 Pandemic in the Prisons

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 ( 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.

Thank you,

Families of Incarcerated People


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Unify for Our People

An estimated 40 cars with over 100 people came to Avenal State Prison to advocate and be the voice for loved ones throughout CDCr.

This is what looks like when people come together and unify to be the voice for our people inside. Before COVID-19 we would be out visiting, but now we are out here protesting against CDCr and rallying together in support of health for our loved ones and the good of public safety.

CDCr calls the police on us every time we are peacefully protesting: our cars have our emergency lights on, and we are not on state property.

They do not like us out here, but if CDCr was not negligent in testing, we would not have to be out here. If they were not negligent in temping and testing their own employees, we wouldn’t have to be out here. Avenal is up to over 700 positive tests for coronavirus, and they keep doing transfers. Because of their negligence, CDCr is responsible for spreading this coronavirus during this pandemic.

Until they come home, we will continue to advocate for them and to be their voice!

See you in the streets outside San Quentin Prison.

Bringing Our People Home!

Saturday, May 23 2020, was a powerful and emotional day. Seeing family members, formerly incarcerated individuals, and organizers get together, gave a sense of the power we as people have, when we get together. Everyone is fighting for something. Whether it is LWOP, changing laws, extreme sentencing, ending mass incarceration, or simply to protect the incarcerated population, and make sure they are treated as human beings, today was marked by change. Change that We hope made everyone realize no one should have just one agenda! We are all in this together, and should stick together, as one!! Our cause is the same, bringing our people home!! Thank you to all that participated, and to those who organized. #Freeourpeople

Bringing Our People Home

Massive Public Safety Budget Cuts Exacerbate the Safety Crisis on Our Loved Ones

The recent State budget cuts due to the Coronavirus that we knew were coming are worse than we thought. While people are so stretched thin right now, we see the budget cuts as not only asking loved ones inside to stretch further, wait longer – but to bear the costs of the overall incompetent response to the crisis on the part of CDCR.

You can see the budget, especially the part on CDCR, prisons, and re-entry in the Public Safety section here. (Click on the Public Safety Icon and the budget will download as a PDF.)

What does this mean? What threats to health and safety have already existed, that will become even worse now with the budget cuts, and further exacerbated when people start getting processed in to CDCR from counties again, scheduled for the end of May?

We have already gotten reports that food quality was going down, portions were smaller. But this means families will likely be spending even more to put money for store. Who does that money go to: the corporations only get a fraction because we know those are canteen prices are gouged   even though they keep getting away with it.

We already know that program has been cut because they keep putting our loved ones on lockdown. Now any hopeful programs also will not be enacted:

Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 8.25.31 PM

Other cuts that will happen are summarized here:

  • Integrated Services for Mentally Ill Parolees and Outpatient Clinics are being eliminated
  • $20.6 Million being cut from CDCR’s baseline budget, including Tattoo Program

However the State is trying to save money here:

  • Federal funds will be used for Health Care for Community Re-entry programs
  • Fire Camp consolidation

Despite all this something is still very out of balance. For example, the Prison Industry Authority was reported to be selling masks for $3.10 but the state is buying them from China for 55 cents. Why pay to keep the prison open, make prisoners make the masks, but then turn around and try to save money by buying cheaper masks? Why not release people on a work program, pay them a living wage. The state will save money as opposed to spending it to keep people in prison.

Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 2.38.22 PM
From the 2020 Budget May Revision

With family love we can make it through any type of crisis. We have already been living through the crisis of the prison system. CDCR and the California government need to allocate funds to emergency clemency and early parole NOW and subsidize housing and food, so we can get through this global crisis with the love and support of families.

#LetThemGo #EndFamilySeparation



Healing Through Dialogue

We tuned in to this powerful documentary and conversation by Representing Justice. What do you think about community healing, and what has been helpful for you and your family? Join the conversation:




COVID-19 Dispatch From California Prison

Link to Beyond Prisons Podcast

Brian Sonenstein interviews a woman who we’re calling “Alice” to protect her and her husband from retaliation by California prison officials.

Alice organizes with other family members as part of a group known as Unite Against CDCR. Her husband is incarcerated in Soledad, California at the Correctional Training Facility (CTF)—one of the prisons where Gladiator Fights have taken place over the last few years.

She shared some of what she has heard and experienced herself regarding the prison’s response to the pandemic. We compare and contrast what California prison officials say they are doing in response to the crisis with what Alice has heard is happening at CTF. We also discuss how the prison is reacting to efforts by her husband and other prisoners to protect themselves.

Episode Resources

Unite Against CDCR

Petition: Tell CDCR TO Allow All Inmates Access To Tablets & Email

Reporting on Gladiator Fights


Support Beyond Prisons and the amazing work they do!

How To File A Citizen’s Complaint

What can you do if CDCr denies your visit due to some ridiculous reason with no prior notification?

Having a denied visit creates so much heartache, pain, anger, and frustration. The financial burden is like insult to injury. But you can fight back. The first step is to File A Citizen’s Complaint.

How to file a citizen’s complaint:

  1. First you need citizen Complaint Form cdcr number 2142 you can ask for this at the front office at the processing when you’re visiting your loved one or you can get online or email us at and we can provide it for you.
  2. List the names and job titles of all those you are filing against (example Lieutenant Landrum CSP Corcoran )
  3. If you do not have enough space on the details information because they only give you like 5 lines we suggest that you type it up on a Word document and attach it to form 2142 (on the form 2142 write see attachment)
  4. Make sure you stick to basics Who, What, Where, When and Why and always use approximate on all your times. (Approx. 1323)
  5. Attach any proof that will help fight your claim including making copies of their own DOM And title 15 rules and standards. If you are fighting for expenses please attach your gas, hotel, food, Etc receipts.
  6. If you took the time to travel up to the prison and they denied your visit for example. If they are saying that they called you to cancel your visit please show proof of your phone records blackout all the phone numbers and only leave area codes.
  7. Make sure you have a total of 3 copies. The hard copy is yours to keep for your own records. Second one will be Mailed to the warden even if he’s on the complaint. The third will go to either the northern, Central or southern region depending where your loved one is located. If you are unsure which region it is call numbers located on those regions on second page of Citizen complain form. 
  8. DO NOT CLOSE YOUR Envelope
  9. Go to the Post Office and mail out your envelopes certified mail so that you have proof that they received it. Ask post office to print you out two additional receipts making a total of three add one in each envelope and mail it out.

IMPORTANT!!! Before filing a citizen’s complaint, we recommend that you follow all chains of command for example the Frontline staff, to the visiting Sergeant, ask to speak to the Lieutenant’s, the captain, The Watch Commander and finally the warden. Remember if they refuse to let you to speak to anybody other than the lower-class staff they are in violation and you must have that in your citizen Complaint Form. This is a DEPARTMENT FAILURE and should be help accountable.  

Finally, you must receive something from the warden or from the region you sent it to within 30 days if you do not you need to follow up so that action is taken and hopefully some reimbursement for your cost will be given back to you.

Remember if you don’t… who will?

In solidarity,


PHONEZAP! End lockdowns and group punishments at CTF Soledad! — Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee • Oakland, CA

Phonezap Monday, October 14 – All day longgggg! Background It has been a full year of orchestrated “gladiator fights” with no education, no programs, hunger strikes, lockdowns as long as 9 months, and next to no visitation for populations at CTF Soledad. As some of you might know, CDCr just admitted failure and stopped the “incremental […]

PHONEZAP! End lockdowns and group punishments at CTF Soledad! — Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee • Oakland, CA

Our Love Is Stronger Than CDCr Lies. A Response to CDCr and IG Spokespeople Statements Regarding Gladiator Fights

CDCr calls it modified program, we call it lockdown. 

CDCr calls it “an experiment in forcing gangs to get along,” we call it a willful and deliberate set-up of violence: gladiator fights. 

CDCr can speak all they want about not knowing what they were doing and having good intentions, but from every angle we look at what is going on in the prisons, this is systematic violence, period.

The officials and bureaucrats inside CDCr administration keep coming up with names for their policies that sound innocent, even hopeful: “Reintegration.” “Incremental Releases.” “Non-Designated Programming Facilities.” But we know what these are too. These are programs that have caused our men to be corralled in yards like animals with armed guards at every exit, set up next to people who have colluded with the prison officials, with our men getting blamed for the fights, thrown in the hole, with no way to contact us or the outside world. 

CDCr, we see you for who and what you are. Because we have known you for decades and we have seen the evolution of your lies and your sneaky games. 

In this article released September 24, 2019, CDCr and IG officials were “interviewed.” The officials explained that they were “allowing” members of different gangs into the same exercise yards, admitting that they were “experimenting” on our loved ones. CDCr uses the term gangs, we know that associations are the only protection our men have anymore.

Any attempt that we have had to legitimize protection – whether in the form of prisoner associations or Inmate Family Councils, we know attempts at transparency and accountability have only been made useless or hollow by CDCr. 

We are wives and families of men who have done some wrong but who truly are the amazing, smart, and very peaceful people. But some of our men have been forced into fighting back against the system for decades now. Some of our men have been on hunger strike in the Pelican Bay SHU. Our men, because of their associations, recognized the Agreement to End Hostilities, which in 2013 was written to ensure full system peace amongst rival associations.

It was a peace treaty for our families, and therefore a tiny peace of mind for us, knowing that for just another day our men weren’t merely fighting for survival. Knowing that they had a chance to rehabilitate. We had hope then. 

CDCr, you never wanted peace. You moved our men, separated our husbands from our families further. Put our men in solitary. Increased points and time for our men, retaliated on a daily basis by, messing with their food, their mail, their visits, their yard time, their program and stripping them from their dignity by harassing them daily with strip searches, etc. 

CDCr, you knew exactly what you were doing when you created these conditions for violence. You are trying to keep our men down. We know that even after one torture ends, CDCr will keep attempting to break our loved ones!

We – ourselves and our families – are unbreakable. We see you. CDCr, you are exposing yourself. You will be held accountable for what you have done to our families. We are taking your secret processes and talks behind closed doors out into the open. We are the ones with power and control, you don’t get that anymore. Because we know what to do. We are women and mothers who have been living this life for decades now, we are members and builders of our communities, and now, we are advocates. 

When we felt alone in this struggle we reached out to each other. Now we have heard all the families that have voiced out anger against CDCR’s words and disregard for accountability, and agree that this should have never started to begin with. Now we know what needs to be done, what we need to make happen in order to fix everything CDCr keeps messing up. 

CDCr, Our love and our unity is stronger than your lies. We see every single falsehood you spin. And we are here to share the truth to the entire world, and together we are going to turn your system inside out. 

This is only the beginning of the struggle. We are here to make sure our loved ones are treated as the human beings they are, with dignity! We are here to tell other wives and families that they are not alone – that we are here to work all together. We are not going to stop until our husbands and family come back home.

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