California Could Release Around 8,000 State Prisoners to Curb Covid-19 Spread

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An inmate cleans a jail cell at Las Colinas Women’s Detention Facility in Santee, California, on April 22, 2020.

An inmate cleans a jail cell at Las Colinas Women’s Detention Facility in Santee, California, on April 22, 2020. Photo: SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP (Getty Images)

Thousands of inmates in California state prisons could be released as early as August in an attempt to curb the spread of covid-19, a potentially deadly disease caused by the novel coronavirus strain SARS-CoV-2.

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An estimated 8,000 incarcerated individuals could be released by the end of next month, a measure the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said by email is meant to create space to allow prisons to better implement safety protocols like social distancing and quarantining. Prisoners will be released on a rolling basis. The department said around 4,800 could be eligible for release at the end of this month.

“We’re glad the governor [Gavin Newsom] is taking action to release more people,” Jay Jordan, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice, said in a statement provided to Gizmodo. “This is absolutely critical for the health and safety of every Californian. Too many people are incarcerated for too long in facilities that spread poor health. Supporting the health and safety of all Californians means releasing people unnecessarily incarcerated and transforming our justice system.”

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In order to be eligible for release, inmates must have 180 days or less of their sentence left to serve, must not be convicted of a violent crime, and must not have an existing or prior sentence that would require them to register as a sex offender. CDCR said it’s also reviewing potential release for inmates with less than a year left to serve and for those in populations with a considerable number of high-risk individuals.

Inmates over 65 as well as those who are in hospice or pregnant are also being evaluated for potential release based on their health risks and their perceived risk to public safety.

Eligibility for potential release extends to all of California’s 35 adult correctional facilities and institutions, CDCR said. According to the Los Angeles Times, Gov. Newsom said that nearly 2,400 people in the state’s prisons have tested positive for the virus, with 1,314 cases at San Quentin State Prison alone. As of this week, at least 31 people have died in California state prisons from covid-19.

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