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Outside the California Institution for Men in Chino. (Photo: cdcr.ca.gov/)

Special Prisoner Releases to Counter Coronavirus Spread Denied By U.S. District Court

Denial was based on a successful 2009 ruling by having too different of reasons for early prisoner release

By Evan Symon, April 7, 2020 1:37 pm

An attempt by California prisoners to secure early release due to the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus failed during the weekend as a special three judge U.S. District Court panel denied their request.

The prisoners were hoping for an affirmation to release all prisoners ho would receive parole within one year, who are low risk, who had a non-violent offense, or who are a high risk at contracting the coronavirus due to medical issues or their age. The request was based off of a successful 2009 ruling where prisons were ordered to reduce their inmate population because of overcrowding and because of overused healthcare facilities.

The three judges ultimately denied the request because of the COVID-19 coronavirus being a pandemic, and therefore much different than the reason given in the 2009 ruling. While the 2009 ruling needing to change a long-held and systematic issue of healthcare, the coronavirus was deemed a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ event. The judges deemed that it was a long-term solution to a short-term problem, and they couldn’t approve the request because of the fundamental differences.

“What the inmates wanted was proper social distancing,” said Paul D’Alessandro, a prison guard turned lawyer who now specializes in convicted clients. “They saw this as a health issue. Proper space was needed, and there are no empty prisons around that can suddenly receive several thousand inmates on a whim who would need to have been relocated. Unless you wanted to reopen Alcatraz or makes schools into temporary prisons, this wasn’t happening.”

“But the judges were correct in that this is a different time. I was a prison guard in 2009 and conditions, yeah, they were bad. Especially for health. Doctor’s appointments took forever, and almost always pushed back because of new emergencies.”

“Today they just wanted the right to not contract a deadly disease. And they were denied that, possibly signing a few of their death warrants. It doesn’t matter that they are very close to paying off their debt to society, and it doesn’t matter if those who were to be released were in for non-violent offenses who have a really low chance of returning to prison. The reasons are much different now than 11 years ago.”

The panels decision comes after last weeks decision by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to release several thousand non-violent criminals who were 60 days or less away from release. The CDCR decision had no effect on the District Court’s ruling.

A new order for special COVID-19 release is expected to proposed soon as Coronavirus nears the peak in California.

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