CDCR & COVID-19 COVID-19 & Justice

CA’s Lethal Prisons: Yes, Gov. Gavin Newsom Plans to Release 8000 COVID-Threatened People From the State’s Prisons, But For Many That Will Be Too Little & Too Late

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

Last Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced through his advisors that as many as 8000 people living in California’s 34 state prison facilities may be released early due to the COVID-19 crisis, starting on August 1.

On one hand, the new release initiative offers at least the possibility of bringing a loved one home to family members who, at the moment,  are terrified daily that their father, mother, husband, wife, son, or daughter may get attacked by this vicious and unpredictable virus, which is now thriving in many of California’s lock-ups.

But in the opinion of those justice experts who have looked closely at the new release strategy,  the governor’s plan should have been instituted months ago and, even now, it is too timid an effort.

“The catastrophic outbreaks within CA prisons require immediate action,” said Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, regarding the governor’s plan, which she called, “a commendable step toward protecting the lives of people behind bars and the community.   Yet, Krinsky was more critical after that. “The reduction of thousands of individuals over the next six months,” she wrote WLA in an email, while important and more than many states have done, will do little to halt the humanitarian crisis occurring today.”

And it has become a crisis of increasingly daunting proportions, a fact that seems mostly to have finally gotten the public’s attention due to the explosion of the virus at San Quentin, a California prison that is both historic, and located in upscale Marin County.

Professor Hadar Aviram of UC Hasting School of Law put the problem with the governor’s new strategy another way. (Aviram specializes in criminal justice policy, and writes regularly about California’s correctional system.)

“It feels like the Governor’s office and CDCR officials are trying to navigate the tricky terrain between curbing the pandemic and producing a plan that will not result in too much public backlash.”

They are doing so, said Abiram, “by trimming the prison population at the margins, rather than cutting a slice from the middle of the population cake and causing controversy.”  But a much bigger slice of releases of those who are the most vulnerable is what is needed, according to Abiram.

And, of course,  there are those incarcerated Californians for whom the strategy is entirely too late because they are already part of the list of prison residents who have died of the virus, a tally that, as of Monday afternoon, went up once again, from 34 to 35, after two more people died at San Quentin.

Furthermore, even if one doesn’t die, those who get the virus inside a CDCR facility have an unsettlingly good possibility of having their future health irrevocably harmed.

Post-COVID damage

As WitnessLA has been hearing repeatedly from our own sources inside some of the state’s most virus affected prisons, for those who do test positive for COVID-19, often it is the post-COVID, organ-affecting damage, that for many — inside and out of prison —  has become the greatest danger of an encounter with coronavirus.

Then, if post-COVID illness and/or damage, is combined with the often shockingly inadequate and unresponsive medical treatment offered to residents inside the most virus affected facilities, those post COVID dangers are multiplied many times over.

(WitnessLA will have much  more on the issue of COVID-19 and post COVID-damage inside California’s prisons in an upcoming new series.)

It is also important to remember, said Krinsky, that given the racial disparities in incarceration, “prison decarceration is also a racial justice issue,” for both residents, and those who work inside the prisons.

“Black lives matter,” Krinsky said “and any governor who has recently affirmed their commitment to racial justice, yet neglected people behind bars with regard to COVID-19, must be held accountable and take action now to protect the health and safety of people who are incarcerated” and who work in these facilities.

“Being sentenced to prison should not be a death sentence.”

The gift of encouragement

Yet, 35 times, thus far, being sent by a judge to a California prison has been a death sentence for members of the state’s incarcerated population.  And far more frequently, although the sentence has not been death, it may have been a sentence of grievous permanent damage.

To briefly illustrate the point, here’s a short essay, via Twitter, by James King, about a friend who recently died of COVID-19 in the virus catastrophe that is now San Quentin.

(King is the State Campaigner for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. He is also a writer and organizer, and has written numerous op-eds, several of them for WLA.)

When I first met Darrell, he told me, “I have the gift of encouragement,” & over the many years I knew him, I found this to be true. We were in multiple prisons together & more than a few times, he’d show up at my cell as I was going through a low pt to tell me…

“I believe in you, I love you, & I’m here if you need me.” He saw his role in our community as one who would always bring positivity & a warm smile & his timing seemed genuinely divine. This remained true even as he battled cancer the first time…

Darrell wasn’t well known on the yard, he didn’t seek attention, but those of us who knew him loved & valued him deeply. Last weekend he lost his battle with COVID. He was not what the CDCR labels him, a “violent offender” though was convicted of a violent crime. He was…

…a loving, compassionate man who will be deeply missed. He is who I think of when I hear the question, “is it safe to release ‘them.’” We are all worse off bc he never had the opportunity to share his gift of encouragement with the world outside the wall.

The bottom line is this:  what the governor is doing is a start, however belated it may be. It is too late for Darrell, yet there are other men and women whose lives also matter, for whom the new release list might be life-saving, or health-preserving.

But much of the release plan will depend on, as Professor Aviram pointed out,  case-by-case evaluations, “particularly for younger (under 30) people, and for people at medical high risk.”

And going over individual files is time-consuming.

So we need to get started — quickly.

Did we mention that, in the U.S., individuals in prison — either state or federal lock-ups — are  550 percent more likely to get Covid-19 and 300 percent more likely to die from it, than those on the outside, according to a study published last week in JAMA, authored by members of the UCLA Law COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project, and Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Health Policy and Management.

The 8000 are a start, but more prison releases are needed.

And be sure to watch for WitnessLA’s new upcoming series about California’s Lethal Prisons.

24 Comments

  • What a piece of trash this article is. So, 35 deaths of how many inmates? More than 120,000?? The death rate for CA prisons is lower than the death rate for the entire State of California. You act like COVID is only impacting those in prison, when it is impacting EVERYONE. Where is the public’s right to immediate health care and attention when they get sick? Oh right, none. Inmates have better health care INSIDE the prison than they’re going to get on the outside. Stop being so ignorant.

    • stop being so ignorant and take your own advice!! if you honestly beleive that they get better medical care in prisons you are sadly uneducated and misinformed!! do your research before making comments like this, OBVIOUSLY everybody matters but the ppl outside of prison can take action to protect themselves from the virus, we have that choice to stay inside away from ppl we have the choice to wear a mask so we dont get others sick, we have soap and hand sanitizer as much as we need and if we need it we can simply go to the store and purchase it, ppl in prison dont have ANY OF THOSE THINGS , so before you go talking like a jealous child and cry that the news is actually calling attention to the huge issues that need to be adressed and fixed only thinking about what you need, try to think of other ppl! yes thy are there for breaking the law, you are not perfect and its gaurenteed that you have done things against the law as well you just never got caught, and dont act like you are perfect an sin free we ALL know better, there isnt a perfect human being in the world. your comment is the only ignorant thing i read here and its sad. not everybody in prison are there for murder or rape or any violent crime, the majority of prisons are full of drug charges, NON VIOLENT drug charges! so stop crying about how bad we have it out here when you are apparently clueless how prisons are inside! they get sick and they get thrown into a cell and thy dont come out unless they get better or die and that is the ugly hard facts, open your ignorant mind and educate yourself on how life really is and not what you think or “believe” it is, when you ASSume things you are making an ass out of yourself and only bringing embarassment to your ignorance…….have you ever been to prison??? jail??? its more than obvious you havent or you would know how IGNORANT YOUR comment is…..

      • I could care less what they’re in for, spare me your simplistic rant. Over the last many years takes quite the effort to get state time and our Leftist asses running our state are doing their best to keep as many as they can on our streets. Read this to find out whose being sent to prison these days. The more we keep off the streets the better for public safety. They catch the virus, oh well, shit happens.

        https://www.ppic.org/publication/californias-prison-population/

      • STFU ur rant is falling on deaf ears..The only huge issue that needs to be addressed is how to put more people in prison. Sounds like u wear the “I have been to prison badge with honor” truly pathetic….

      • No, your comment is ignorant. These people are in jail for rape, murder, all kinds of violent crimes against law-abiding people. The law abiding people, we have more rights than the people who choose to commit crimes. efore you go on a diatribe, you should look in the mirror, do you really think that if somebody raped and viciously murdered your mother, you would care if they got sick or died? why are law-abiding citizens paying an arm and leg for healthcare, and some of them can’t afford it, when people who rape children get it for free!? You need to get off your high horse and look in the mirror. You are the biggest idiot that has ever walked the face of this Earth.

  • Celeste, I don’t even know where to begin to pick this article apart. How about this, I realize. “some people did something” (borrowing a phrase from someone whom you most likely admire) to eventually be tried, convicted and sentenced to the penal institutions you brought up.
    Odds are if those people are released, after not having paid their debt to society (I’m sure you remember that phrase and measure of justice), then they can quite possibly spread the virus in an uncontrolled environment, where they will undoubtedly not find or seek out the healthcare available to them now, or will engage in acts similar to those that landed them in prison to begin with.
    How about humoring us a little someday. Write a story about the affect of violence, evil and disparity that exists in our society, on the common hard working folks, most of whom, I’m quite certain, would be amazed at the feelings you and your ilk have for those who have victimized so many!!!

      • Wow! Sounds like somebody’s been to prison. Are the people in jail your friends, is that why you care about them? Do you think any of these people in jail would advocate for you? Seems to me you are completely ignorant. You care more about people who commit crimes than people who are law-abiding citizens. You care so much about them, why don’t you offer to take a few of these into your home? go on with your bad self, and make sure you care more about people who commit crimes against people then the veterans that fought for your freedom. maybe you should look in the mirror before you call anyone ignorant, because you are the epitome of ignorance.

  • @Lisa and Anthony

    You are wasting your time. Celeste and her liberal friends don’t care about facts. Like the fact that as you stated Lisa there are somewhere between 115,000 and 120,000 inmates in CA prisons, and with 35 deaths that means the death rate is .0003 percent. The 8,000 inmates being released will inflict far more damage to communities. How about CA’s no bail policy and all the crimes being committed by people that should be in jail but are not because of “Covid”. Get real!! Its time to vote this piece of trash Newsome out of office. Major Williams for Governor!!!!!

  • What you have to understand about Witness la is that they begin with a premise then write the article to justify and reinforce that premise. Witness la has zero interest in any counter argument or inconvenient facts. It’s like arguing with a religious zealot, anything countering the dogma is heresy.

    This mindset does make for some interesting phrasing, ways to minimize some of those inconvenient facts. E.g. prisoners aren’t locked up, they’re just “living” in penitentiaries. This is a “humanitarian crisis” (sounds better than they’re basically just facing the same pandemic that everyone else is).

    Then we’re treated to a story of another gentile giant who the prison system unfairly labeled as a “violent offender” merely because he committed a violent offense. Of course Witness could not care less about what that violent offense was, because it’s just one of those inconvenient facts. Perhaps he butchered his entire family, but let’s not quibble about who murdered who, we have an agenda to push.

    • wow i just cant believe all of the ignorant shit im reading here by all of these comments,,,,yes thy are facing the same pandemic however we have the choice to stay home and away from other ppl, THEY DONT, we have the choice to buy as much soap and cleaning supplies to help fight the virus, THEY DONT cant even have hand sanitizer bcuz its considered contraband, they cant leave they dont have the choice of being able to keep their distance to prevent from getting sick, we can go to the drs, hospital they have to put a request in and hope to get to see at least a nurse within a week of asking, usually ppl that get sick and put a request in for this ” wonderful” medical attention ppl think thy get by the time they do get to see a nurse if at all thy are not even sick anymore because its been so long they just had to suffer through. I THOUGHT THIS WAS COMMON SENSE BUT I SEE HOW WRONG I WAS, PRISONS DO HAVE MURDERERS, RAPIST, VIOLENT PPL BUT THE MAJORITY OF THE POPULATION IN PRISONS ARE FOR NON VIOLENT DRUG OFFENSE AND MORE OFTEN THAN NOT IT IS THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE ADDICTIONS, THERE ARE GOOD PPL WITH ADDICTION ISSUES AND SHOULDNT BE THERE AT ALL IN THE FIRST PLACE!!! ALSO ITS QUITE OBVIOUS YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT THE LAW!! THERE ARE CRIMES THAT ARE LABELED AS “VIOLENT” CRIMES THAT DONT EVEN INVOLVE OTHER PPL AND THAT IS EXXCTLY WHY THE LAWS ARE BEING CHANGED DAILY! PLZ EDUCATE YOURSELVES , IGNORANCE IS NOT BLISS…..

      • @Susan
        Get real lady. You seriously think the majority of the prison population is non-violent drug offenses. You do realize that schedule 1 and 2 controlled substance possession cases are misdemeanors and they would not be in prison. Come back from utopia land.

      • Hey suzie where are you getting your information regarding prisons? I’m guessing you’re a nice liberal girl without too much real life experience, especially when it comes to convicts. You know they can be pretty clever and manipulative, especially when dealing with nice naive young people who have a tendency to believe everything they they hear. Instead of emotionally lashing out against the people who have actually worked in these environments ,perhaps you can listen , you may even learn a thing or two.

      • You could not be more wrong and by the way, typing in caps does not make you correct.

        As of the end of June, the state had reduced it’s prison population considerably as compared to prior years, to about 113,000 felons. In 2017, there were considerably more – I think about 130,000 and even then, only about 5000 were there for drug offenses (95% for sales). BTW, if someone goes to prison for beating the crap out of someone and robbing them to pay for drugs, understand clearly – that’s not a drug offense.

        Don’t believe those of us that work(ed) in the system. Don’t believe those of us that have offered some of these guys drug treatment time and time again only to have them refuse it or use it only as a way to avoid jail. Go the the CDCR site and educate yourself.

        Conditions in prisons may not be the best. I would not wish going to one on anyone but unfortunately, people make the choice to do so all the time.

      • Okay, idiot, the reason why they don’t have the ability and the freedom to go by a bar soap is because they committed a crime. Seriously, I hope somebody breaks into your house and steals everything you have and then beats you up, then I want somebody to ask you if you care whether that person gets covid-19! Your stupidity and ignorance is far beyond the normal realm, I think you need to take your antipsychotic pill, you’re psychosis is showing.

  • How about an article or two about the roughly 1500 nursing home patients who lost the lives because of govt neglect. I am sure there were plenty of good heart warming patients in needs of some advocate to say something to help them. Hey but 34 inmates died in CDCR. No one cared when Covid 19 was running rapid in nursing homes. A week ago they finally appointed an Inspector General to whitewash their failure. Hopefully all the guilt ridden liberals, who read the bull, begin to ask why no one cared about their, mom, dad, aunt, uncle or grandparent who died in a nursing home. Perhaps they will get a clue we should be directing our efforts to those who are actually dying. Do the math in Cal .000178 death in the pop. CDCR .000269. Is it really a crisis!

  • He wasn’t known as a violent offender though convicted of a violent crime….really? What crime would that be Celeste? Did his victim or victims that you obviously care nothing about feel he was violent? I could care less how many die in our prisons as long as they’re not staff. Their families mean nothing to me as well. I feel for those having to work with the scum that inhabit the cells in every one of our prisons that you champion daily. That our Leftist soft on crime idiots like you and Newsom feel just fine creating new victims daily speaks to a tremendous lack of morals in your own genetic makeup.

  • What is wrong with people? If only 35 people in CDCR have died, the authorities managing the prisons have done well given the number of people they house and the number of facilities that they run.

    Given the mandates for local county jails to house people now that previously would have gone to state prison, the prison system is only getting the criminal cream of the crop. While I hope there will be some success stories re some released early, with respect to many of these guys, this is not good news for their communities. Hopefully all will be at least be tested, quarantined and medically screened on their way out.

    As others have accurately noted, our elderly and poor in the community have been treated like disposable paper plates. I think that state resources and attention have been tragically misused. Newsom needs to go – and before the comments start, let me add that I am neither a Republican, nor a Trump supporter.

  • Ummm @ Sourdeez @ Maj Kong @ Seeking the truth @ Fife @ ProJustice @ Lisa Kahn is the same person.
    “What a piece of trash this article is. So, 35 deaths of how many inmates? More than 120,000?? ”
    “Where is the public’s right to immediate health care and attention when they get sick?”
    Answering to themselves here:
    How about CA’s no bail policy and all the crimes being committed by people that should be in jail but are not because of “Covid”. Get real!! Its time to vote this piece of trash Newsome out of office”.
    And Again:
    “What you have to understand about Witness la is that they begin with a premise then write the article to justify and reinforce that premise”.
    And Again:
    “How about an article or two about the roughly 1500 nursing home patients who lost the lives because of govt neglect. I am sure there were plenty of good heart warming patients in needs of some advocate to say something to help them”.
    And Again jeesh:
    “He wasn’t known as a violent offender though convicted of a violent crime….really? What crime would that be Celeste? Did his victim or victims that you obviously care nothing about feel he was violent?”
    And Again smh:
    “What is wrong with people? If only 35 people in CDCR have died, the authorities managing the prisons have done well given the number of people they house and the number of facilities that they run”.
    “Newsom needs to go – and before the comments start, let me add that I am neither a Republican, nor a Trump supporter”.
    You ask questions then you answer them. Must be having a bad day there.

    • I think a lot of questions are posed here because at least some readers do not feel this article reflects a well rounded perspective and/or as a technique to spur further discussion.

      Fortunately for everyone, only one of me and based on the comments I’ve long read here, each of the posters above are unique individuals.

      When you and your friends agree on an issue, don’t you often have talking points in common? Not sure why you are suffering such angst over these comments but I recommend a glass of merlot. Cheers!

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