San Quentin population on an upward trajectory after pandemic decline
In 2020 San Quentin experienced one of the most deadly periods in its long history — the COVID-19 pandemic. Twenty-nine people died, including a custodial staff sergeant. In the midst of the crisis, the prison’s population fell gradually — until its recent spike.
San Quentin State Prison MONTHLY POPULATION October 2019 – March 2022
Before the pandemic, the SQ prison population fluctuated, but hovered around 4,000-plus residents. When the COVID crisis hit, intake to the prison was halted, some of its residents were paroled, and some went to hospitals where some died. Those held at The Q were subjected to ever-changing housing arrangements.
“Due to the living circumstances at SQ, I caught COVID three times,” said Michael Finley, 40. He has been a resident at SQ for three years and part of those years has been during the COVID pandemic. Finley is a Hepatitis-C and high blood pressure patient. The virus worsened his condition, he said.
“My cellmate at that time had the disease and the staff at SQ knew it. But, instead of moving me or him to a quarantined section, [they] made us continue being cellmates,” Finley said. “But even in quarantine they were still making people cell together.”
When the COVID epidemic hit SQ steps were taken to re-house much of the prison’s population. Among these steps was the placement of tents on the Lower Yard that housed residents who were infected with the virus. Other infected residents were placed in The Hole (Administrative Segregation), in the prison’s chapels, the gymnasium, the prison’s factory facilities, or shipped to outside hospitals.
“At first I refused to quarantine because I didn’t want [them] to put me in a worse situation,” said Adrian Robinson, 48, referring to The Hole. “However, I still ended up going to Ad-Seg anyway and experienced the difficulties there,” he said.
“The Omicron variant is here now and it’s nothing new or different than the last outbreak that happened here, as far as housing goes,” said Robinson.
As a result of the steps taken by SQ prison officials to reduce the spread of the virus, the prison’s population fell to a low of about 2,400. The custody count is now climbing back to pre-pandemic numbers.
In January the prison experienced another COVID lockdown that lasted for two months. “We were still under quarantine, yet they were still filling this place up with bodies,” said Finley.
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