This article was written back in August and reflects conditions then.
After months of urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to take action to curb the spread of COVID-19 in our prison system, we are relieved to see that he is finally starting to grant releases.
The governor’s July 10 promise to review 8,000 incarcerated people for release is a step in the right direction. But releasing a mere 6 percent of the people inside California’s overcrowded prisons falls woefully short of the large-scale decarceration needed to protect the health and safety of the community.
We stand by public health experts who have clearly stated that the prison population must be reduced to below 50 percent of what the prisons were designed for to adequately address unsafe overcrowding during the pandemic.
To reach the recommended target of 50 percent capacity, roughly 2,000 people would need to be released from San Quentin alone — the site of California’s worst COVID-19 outbreak where to date, over 1,900 people tested positive.
In just the last three weeks, at least 10 people have died at San Quentin due to COVID-19, the majority of them were housed on Death Row.
Failure to reduce the population significantly will result in incarcerated people continuing to face grave risk of illness, inhumane conditions of confinement, and death.
While the incarcerated community is most at risk, public health experts have emphasized that a drastic population reduction is also necessary to prevent community transmission and bed capacity shortages at local hospitals.
In addition, the Newsom Administration’s continued focus on people with non-violent convictions ignores the undeniable truths that those convicted of serious offenses grow and change over time, that people age out of crime, and that those committed for violent offenses actually have the lowest rates of re-arrest upon release.
We urge Gov. Newsom to expand his release plans to include incarcerated people across all categories of convictions and sentencing — including those serving Life Without Parole and condemned sentences — and consider individuals for release based on who they are today.
Families and community organizations are eager and prepared to receive our loved ones and the larger incarcerated community upon their re-entry. We will continue to push for comprehensive releases as long as the threat of harm and death by COVID-19 in prisons continues.
We reiterate the demands from our coalition, as stated at our recent press conference outside San Quentin State Prison:
1. Gov. Newsom must visit San Quentin State Prison and tour the facility with the press so he can bear witness to the deplorable conditions inside.
2. The governor and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation must immediately stop all transfers between California prisons, and from prisons to ICE detention centers.
3. Gov. Newsom must begin the process of drastically reducing the overall prison population to below 50 percent of current capacity, as recommended by Amend, a group of medical professionals at the University of California San Francisco that works to transform correctional culture to reduce debilitating health effects. Amend visited San Quentin in the midst of the outbreak, on June 13. In order to achieve this level of decarceration, Newsom must grant releases without categorical exclusions based on crimes of commitment or sentencing.
4. The governor must prioritize the release of transgender people who are at disproportionate risk of harm and violence in prison. Additionally, CDCR must ensure that the incarcerated trans community has access to hormones and healthcare immediately – before and after their release.
The #StopSanQuentinOutbreak coalition is comprised of formerly incarcerated folks, loved ones with direct connections to San Quentin State Prison, community organizers, and several social justice organizations. We commit to working with currently incarcerated folks to ensure that our advocacy is grounded in their needs and vision, as we engage in rapid response work combatting the horrendous COVID-19 outbreak impacting prison facilities across California.