Gov. Newsom Aims To Release Thousands More Inmates As Prison Outbreaks Spread

Prison cells
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By KCBS All News 106.9FM and 740AM

A medical team from UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco warned top health officials in the Department of Corrections weeks ago that San Quentin State Prison had "profoundly inadequate resources" to keep COVID-19 from exploding behind bars. 

Now more than 450 inmates have tested positive for the virus, all in the last few weeks. The prison had been free of the virus until a group of medically vulnerable inmates were transferred there, away from a growing outbreak at a prison in Chino. Gov. Gavin Newsom says with more than 1,800 tests still pending, the case count is likely to rise even more. 

The state had already been working to release early about 3,500 inmates who have six months or less left on their sentence and met other criteria, and Gov. Newsom now wants to see that number doubled. 

"We’ll begin the process of reviewing their plans, making sure they have housing plans, parole plans," Gov. Newsom said Wednesday. "We don’t want to just throw people out onto the streets and sidewalks, that wouldn’t be humane."

The governor also wants to see intake procedures improve, although he admitted that much of the damage has already been done.

"Keep people cohorted that have been together so they stay together, so that we’re not transporting people to other prisons that may be pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic or haven’t been tested at all, only to find out that this virus is being transmitted," Gov. Newsom said. 

Assemblymen Marc Levine said that is exactly the scenario that prison officials were warned would happen at San Quentin and "through a series of gaffes" did nothing. 

Almost 3,900 people in California prison system and 680 Department of Corrections employees have tested positive for the virus.