California to release up to 8,000 prisoners to curb spread of coronavirus

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “California to release up to 8,000 prisoners to curb spread of coronavirus” was written by Abené Clayton in Oakland, for theguardian.com on Friday 10th July 2020 19.42 UTC

Prison officials have announced California will release up to 8,000 people from state prisons to curb the spread of Covid-19 throughout the institutions.

Officials on Friday announced three separate efforts, approved by the governor, Gavin Newsom, that they say will decrease the prison population by 8,ooo by the end of August. The measures mark the largest release efforts the state administration has taken since Covid-19 began to circulate among prison staff and incarcerated people.

The first initiative expands a previous effort to expedite the release of people with 180 or fewer days left on their sentences to include people serving time for serious felonies.

The second measure is an immediate review of cases of people with less than a year left to serve in eight prisons that have large populations at high risk of developing Covid-19 complications.

The state will also launch a one-time program under which those incarcerated in state prisons, including people serving time for violent felonies, will receive a credit shortening their sentences by three months. People with recent rule violations and those who are sentenced to death or life without parole are excluded from the program. Prison officials say the program will affect roughly 108,000 people, or about 95% of the state prison population. For 3,100 people, the credit will allow their release when the program begins on 1 August.

The announcement of the relief efforts comes following intense pressure on the administration from state officials, organizers, and families of incarcerated people who insist that large-scale releases are the only way to avoid more widespread infections in and outside of prisons.

The secretary of the California department of corrections and rehabilitation (CDCR) said the credit program was meant to acknowledge the intense stress that families have been under as they have watched the number of positive cases tick up and calls about their loved ones’ health have gone unanswered.

“While this will in no way make up for the multitude of changes and impacts to your lives this pandemic has necessitated, I hope it will play a part in recognizing your sacrifice,” Ralph Diaz said in a 9 July statement.

Since prison officials announced the first positive cases in late March, 10 of the state’s 35 prisons have had outbreaks. Among the institutions most dramatically affected is San Quentin, California’s oldest and most well-known prison. Infections in the prison rose from zero to more than 1,000 after the transfer of 121 men from the California Institution for Men in Chino.

The most recent round of releases comes amid a surge in infections throughout California. Record-setting positive caseloads and increases in hospitalizations have forced counties to roll back their reopening plans and shutter recently reopened bars, zoos, and restaurant dining rooms.

On Thursday, local elected officials and advocates had pleaded once again with the governor to release people over the age of 60 and the medically vulnerable.

“We are in the middle of a humanitarian crisis that was created and wholly avoidable,” said the California assembly member Rob Bonta at a press conference in front of San Quentin state prison on Thursday.

“We need to act with urgency fueled by compassion,” he added. “We missed the opportunity to prevent, so now we have to make things right.”

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