Transfer of prison inmates halted when 2 test positive
In the midst of a major coronavirus outbreak at San Quentin State Prison that has thrown the facility into turmoil, an emergency transfer of incarcerated men to a prison in the Bakersfield area has been halted after two people on the transfer list tested positive, The Chronicle has learned.
“Additional testing for COVID19 being conducted on the inmates scheduled for transfer revealed two positive cases,” Dana Simas, a state corrections spokeswoman, said in an email. “Those inmates are now in isolation and under medical watch.”
The scheduled move, announced by the state corrections department Friday evening, was heavily criticized by prisoner advocates and their loved ones, who said the transfer could spread infection to another prison and the men should be released to their communities instead.
Critics of the plan also said they were baffled because a similar transfer is what touched off the San Quentin outbreak in the first place, as The Chronicle has reported. San Quentin had no coronavirus cases among its incarcerated population until an illfated transfer late last month from the California Institution for Men in Chino — the site of the state prison system’s deadliest outbreak.
A Chronicle investigation revealed that 121 men put on buses and brought to San Quentin were not tested for the coronavirus for up to a month before they were bused by the dozens. After the transfer, the number of virus cases among San Quentin residents and staff exploded. By Saturday afternoon, 613 prisoners and more than 80 staff members were confirmed to be infected, according to the state’s web tracker.
Because the transfer of men from Chino led to such a mess, many in the San Quentin community — residents, staff and loved ones — had been worried since Friday, when the state said it intended to transfer as many as 150 San Quentin men to North Kern State Prison, a facility with 2,200 incarcerated men in the Central Valley.
Marvin Mutch, a former San Quentin inmate and director of advocacy with the Prisoner Reentry Network, said he received panicked calls from loved ones of San Quentin residents. Although Mutch and other prisoner advocates were glad to hear the transfer would not happen, at least not immediately, they were shaken.
“I don’t know what they think they’re doing,” Mutch said of the corrections department. “It’s remarkable, what’s going on. It’s unbelievable.”
Simas, the corrections spokeswoman, said: “We understand and share the concern of COVID19 cases in the state’s prisons, and are implementing multiple strategies to control the spread of the virus.”