In the middle of March, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency due to the novel coronavirus, also known as “COVID-19.” In short order, schools were closed, “non-essential” businesses were ordered to shut down, and state governors across the nation directed their citizens to remain indoors except when performing essential activities, such as grocery shopping, picking up prescriptions at pharmacies, and getting gasoline.
But the efforts to stop the coronavirus didn’t stop there; in California, it extended into our prison system. On July 10, 2020, NPR published an article on how California will be releasing up to 8,000 prisoners over the summer because of the coronavirus. The goal of the massive prisoner release is twofold: 1) to create more space and 2) to prevent the spread of COVID-19 cases in California prisons.
Surge in Positive COVID-19 Tests at San Quentin
According to NPR, the news of the plan emerged after over one-third of inmates and staff at San Quentin Prison (located in the San Francisco Bay Area) tested positive for COVID-19. If a prisoner is eligible for release, he or she will have to be tested for the coronavirus within seven days of them being released back into society, stated the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
As of July 10th, California’s state prison system had reported 5,841 coronavirus cases among its inmates, amounting to an increase in over 860 cases in a two week period. Additionally, 1,222 employees were infected in that timespan.
"These actions are taken to provide for the health and safety of the incarcerated population and staff," California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Ralph Diaz said. "We aim to implement these decompression measures in a way that aligns both public health and public safety."
Over half of the prisoners could be released by the end of July. The corrections department has been reviewing its roster of prisoners, specifically those who have fewer than 180 days left on their sentences. By the end of July, nearly 5,000 inmates could be eligible for release.