Assemblyman Marc Levine is coming down hard on state prison officials amid a dramatic rise in the number of COVID-19 cases reported among the inmate population at San Quentin State Prison.
Levine, in an email last week, called the COVID-19 outbreak at San Quentin “the worst prison health screw-up in state history.”
As of July 9, there were 1,315 reported active COVID cases at San Quentin as the number continues to increase among inmates and prison employees. Reportedly six San Quentin inmates have died from COVID while in state custody.
The origin of the outbreak has been traced to the May 30 transfer of 120 prisoners from the California Institution for Men in Chino to San Quentin. The facility in Chino had about 500 active cases of COVID-19 at the time and had reported 13 deaths associated with COVID.
“The prisoners were not tested for COVID-19 immediately prior to the transfer,” Levine alleged. “The inmate bus transfer itself exposed inmates to the virus and upon arrival at San Quentin, transferred inmates were thoughtlessly blended with the existing inmate population, endangering thousands of inmates and staff at the prison. Transferred inmates were housed at upper levels of the Badger Unit prison block which has open air, barred doors, making it easier for any inmate vapor to fall upon other inmates below. Chino inmates were also transferred to other CDCR facilities across the state, creating a spike of COVID-19 infections throughout the prison system.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom has indicated he hopes to see some prisoners given early parole to lessen overcrowding in the prisons and minimize the risk of exposure to the virus. Roughly 3,700 inmates are currently being held at San Quentin — 122 percent of the prison’s maximum capacity.
“All of this would have been preventable if the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and San Quentin leadership had listened to public health and infectious disease experts, developed prison specific plans, and taken appropriate actions to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19,” Levine charged.
“It isn’t like they weren’t warned. In April, after hearing the concerns of Marin County’s Public Health Officer, Dr. Matt Willis, I spoke with CDCR and San Quentin officials about a potential COVID-19 outbreak and called on them to develop site-specific plans for each of its facilities to ensure that incarcerated people and staff can be protected and local hospitals would not be overwhelmed by a surge of infections.”