BAKERSFIELD - The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on July 10 stated that it would release an estimated 8,000 inmates from various prisons around the state in order to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
More than half of the releases are expected by the end of the week, according to CDCR.
“These actions are taken to provide for the health and safety of the incarcerated population and staff,” corrections Secretary Ralph Diaz said in a written statement. “We aim to implement these decompression measures in a way that aligns both public health and public safety.”
Prisoner releases would include those that had 180 days or less to serve on their sentence. The releases will not include those who were convicted of a violent felony or domestic violence, according to prison officials.
The second group would have no more than a year left on their sentence and would be aimed at the prisons hardest hit by the coronavirus. In all cases, releases would give priority to inmates 30 years or older.
As of July 13 the number of positive castes in the California prison system was 2,438, with 1,455 cases in San Quentin Prison.
Locally, California City Correctional Facility had no cases, while Tehachapi's California Correctional Institution reported 162 active cases including 63 in the last 14 days. Of those,
The decision to release the inmates also comes as a move by Gov. Gavin Newsom to address a chronic overpopulation of prisons and a 2011 federal court order to reduce the state inmate population.
It's not the first time Newsom stressed the seriousness of COVID-19 spreading through the prison system and the need to keep both prison staff and inmates safe.
“This is serious stuff and requires a seriousness of purpose. People are just saying just release thousands and thousands of people,” Newsom said during a July 9 news conference. “Each and every one of these cases are sobering, challenging, and there’s a deep responsibility that comes with this job, but a sense of deep urgency as well to decompress the system in a judicious and thoughtful way.”
The decision to release inmates early did not sit well with Kern's top law and order officials, including the Kern County District Attorney.
On July 10, Kern County DA Cynthia Zimmer released a statement condemning the decision. In addition, she was critical of CDCR's apparent months-long denial to transfer inmates from local jails to state prisons as demanded by those inmates' sentences.
“Governor Newsom has made clear time and time again his intent to fill our communities with violent felons. He has repeatedly issued commutations for convicted, notorious killers, and now has opened wide the floodgates for violent felons to be released into our streets," Zimmer said. "Rather than implement policies that make our prisons safe, he has chosen to use the pandemic as an excuse to intentionally cripple the criminal justice system and single-handedly overrule sentences set by hundreds of judges across the state under laws approved by the People."
She added that the "Newsom administration’s continuing actions are a dereliction of his duty to the citizens and laws of California.”