Inmate Releases Fast-Tracked As Coronavirus Spreads In Prisons

Prison cells
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California continues to draw down its prison population after a virus outbreak infected two-thirds of people incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison. The number of active cases has now decreased to less than 400, but the urgency created by the outbreak at San Quentin and other prisons has prompted state officials to fast-track cases that normally would have sat for months.

"The less complicated cases we have been able to move in a couple of weeks as opposed to a couple of months," said Danielle Harris, managing attorney with the San Francisco Public Defender's Integrity Unit.

These cases are known as 1170 petitions, cases that qualify to be reviewed by a judge for re-sentencing. 

Darren B. Williams of San Francisco was a three strikes felon serving a sentence of 35 years to life for burglary, who has now been released early from San Quentin thanks to an 1170 and is now quarantining at a motel until he can safely return home. 

"I’ve been away for a long time," he told KCBS Radio. "We came in a car so there’s a lot of different things that I saw like the Presidio, that looks totally different. The freeway looks totally different. Like I said, I’ve been incarcerated for 26 years."

He tested positive for the coronavirus while incarcerated and watched as his neighbors were wheeled out on gurneys and did not come back.

"So I’m just ready to, you know, do my best to live my life. And I’m blessed to be out of that place," he said.

The outbreak has allowed advocates to devote more resources to releasing people like Williams. 

"Even in just the first few weeks of June it was obvious that they were having an explosion, so we made the decision to do a very hard fast push on San Quentin," said Harris. "I’ve been working around the clock because of it. We’ve been able to get more people to work on 1170 petitions because of the urgency. So we’ve been able to impose, if you will, on lawyers who don’t normally do this type of work and have them come in to help."

To ease overcrowding and slow the spread of the virus, Gov. Newsom has pledged that as many as 8,000 people could be eligible for release by the end of the month.