State prisons in California may give early release to some of the state’s 123,000 convicts.
The beginning of a possible system-wide spread
A state pandemic task force working under U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller of Sacramento is currently looking into multiple scenarios and recommendations on what to do with prisoners during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, with one of the more popular scenarios including early release for some prisoners.
The situation has been more complicated by the fact that one inmate in Lancaster and 5 state prison staff members in Chino, Sacramento, and Folsom respectively have tested positive for coronavirus.
“Prison officials are usually torn when situations like this happen,” noted Doug Gilmore, a prison consultant with experience in 12 states. “Do you release some prisoners and risk having them be carriers and set them out? Or do you keep everyone in and knowingly give them no escape from the spread of whatever is going around?”
“Prisons are always hit hard by bugs because of their close quarters, lower healthcare, a high number of inmates electing to not get treatment or telling others they are sick, and no place to leave. You can’t ‘quarantine-at-home’ from inside an open cell feet away from others.“
“Right now New York has been releasing a few dozen, but that only came after Riker’s Island in New York City became heavily infected. They had a few dozen infected only a few days ago and it’s higher now. It’s even been hitting higher profile, more isolated criminals there like Harvey Weinstein.”
“California isn’t at that point yet, but they may be at the end of the week.”
Groups such as the ACLU and prisoner advocate groups, fresh off of having the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the departments of Health Services and Mental Health, and the Office of Inspector General look into all avenues for stopping the spread in Los Angeles jails following one prisoner being tested positive, are also now looking for state system measures.
California’s state prison system currently has around 123,000 convicts at 134% capacity.
The entire prison population is on the line
During a phone call last week with the state task force, Judge Mueller confirmed that the entire prison population in state prisons is currently on the table.
“Now the decision becomes ‘who gets out?’ added Gilmore. “Non-violent offenders, those with sentences coming to a close soon, those who were likely to be let out on parole soon, and those currently battling the prison system legally will be among the top candidates if there is a release. But again, there are many who feel like none of them should get out either because of their crimes or because of possibly carrying the virus with them.”
“Most likely we’ll get what what New York did. After a fight over hundreds of prisoners being released, a few dozen are ultimately released early. Californian’s don’t usually like seeing early releases, but seeing as how many may face death in prisons due to being trapped with a virus against their will, it may change a few minds.”
The task force, who has met with judges, governor’s office representatives, lawyers for the state prisons, and lawyers representing convicts, is currently set to have answers by the end of the week on what California should do in this situation.
“They’re looking at public safety, public health, prisoner safety and health, and what the best result is for everyone,” concluded Gilmore. “Even if you hate prisoners, sentencing someone to possible death for a light crime is not something to take lightly. That’s why there is no instant decision here.”