California’s 35 prisons and four juvenile facilities will no longer accept new intakes, at least temporarily, under a new executive order from Governor Gavin Newsom meant to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
The order, signed on Tuesday evening, March 24, requires local jails and juvenile facilities to keep those adults and kids convicted of felonies who would otherwise be transferred to an adult or youth lockup run by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The point, Gov. Newsom said, “to make sure we’re not mixing” our incarcerated populations and creating more opportunities for the virus to spread behind bars.
Newsom suspended new prison intakes for 30 days with the option to extend the ban “if suspension continues to be necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of inmates and juveniles in CDCR’s custody and staff who work in the facilities.”
Late on Sunday, CA prison officials announced the first confirmed case of a prisoner having contracted COVID-19 at California State Prison-Los Angeles County, in Lancaster.
In addition to the Lancaster case, two CDCR employees at California State Prison, Sacramento, three at California Institution for Men, and a sixth employee at Folsom State Prison have tested positive for COVID-19, as of March 24, according to the CDCR. A seventh worker at California Health Care Facility, a prison in Stockton, has also tested positive but reportedly did not expose other staff or prisoners before being quarantined.
“The State of California is responding in real time and fighting hard to deploy every resource to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and we are working with our public health experts, corrections system and our local sheriff’s departments to ensure proper protocols and procedures are in place to effectively limit risks in correctional facilities,” said Governor Newsom.
Sheriff’s departments running big jail systems, including LA County’s, have been working to reduce low-level arrests and increase early releases. Yet justice reform advocates say more could be done at the local level, and have called on Newsom and state officials to ramp up early releases, as well as compassionate releases for sick and elderly people, in the state’s overcrowded prisons where social distancing is all but impossible.
The governor has not indicated he will support earlier releases from prison, however.
Additionally, coronavirus concerns had previously put parole hearings, which are conducted in-person, on pause at least until March 31.
With Tuesday’s executive order, Newsom sets a timeline and requirements for the state to get regular parole hearings back on track by harnessing the power of videoconferencing tools.
The governor has ordered the Board of Parole Hearings to get remote parole meetings functional by April 13, at the latest — a little less than a month after state officials first suspended the hearings.