California plans to release as many as 8,000 prisoners this summer in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. On Friday, the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced it would release thousands of inmates to create more space in prisons. The new plans are in addition to the approximately 10,000 California inmates who were released since mid-March.
The corrections department is reviewing potential early releasees who have fewer than 180 days left on their prison sentences. In order to be freed, inmates must not be incarcerated for domestic violence or violent crimes. Anyone who is a sex offender is not eligible for early release.
Approximately 4,800 inmates could be eligible for early release by the end of July, and as many as 8,000 prisoners could be freed by the end of August. There are over 110,000 inmates in California's prison system.
Inmates who are freed will need to be tested for coronavirus within seven days of release, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
"These actions are taken to provide for the health and safety of the incarcerated population and staff," California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Ralph Diaz said. "We aim to implement these decompression measures in a way that aligns both public health and public safety."
The plan comes on the heels of reports that more than a third of the inmates at San Quentin State Prison tested positive for coronavirus. There are also about 20 inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 at the San Quentin State Prison and have gone on a hunger strike in recent weeks. They are protesting "dismal" living conditions during quarantine, sources inside the prison told NBC Bay Area.
California's state prison system currently reports 5,841 coronavirus cases among prisoners, which includes a spike of over 860 cases in the last two weeks. There are 52.4 coronavirus cases per 1,000 prisoners in California, compared to 6.9 per 1,000 for the rest of the state. There have been seven COVID-19 deaths in California's prisons. There have also been 1,222 prison system employees who have tested positive for the virus.
Starting in late May, there were 194 inmates from California Institution for Men in Chino transferred to other California prisons, including San Quentin. The plan, which was supposed to relocate 700 inmates in total, was halted in June after it was learned that 16 of the prisoners transferred tested positive for COVID-19.
During a press conference on Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said those prisoners "should not have been transferred" to the San Quentin State Prison.
"It has been incredibly frustrating," Newsom said. "That decision created the chain of events that we are now addressing and dealing with. I'm not here to sugarcoat that, I'm not here to scapegoat that. All of us our now accountable to address this issue and doing so in a forthright manner."
In the past two weeks, California has experienced a spike in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. On July 2, California had 9,439 new coronavirus cases, its highest daily COVID-19 case total since the pandemic began. The state has had over 6,000 new cases every day since.
The Golden State also reached a new high for daily COVID-19 deaths twice this week — 150 on June 8 and 137 the following day. On Friday, California's number of coronavirus hospitalizations set a new high, spiking 40% in two weeks with 6,171 patients. The number of people in ICUs increased by 28% in the past two weeks.
California has reported a total of over 312,000 cases and nearly 7,000 COVID-19 deaths.