State must do better on prisons
1an Quentin and other California prisons are home to some of the nation’s worst coronavirus outbreaks as well as those for which the state is most to blame. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement Friday that the state would release up to 8,000 more prisoners by next month is therefore welcome but probably not equal to the scope of the problem.
While it’s not clear how many would be released from San Quentin, the site of over 1,~00 infections and seven deaths, Assemblyman Marc Levine of San Rafael told The Chronicle he was informed that about 100 would come from the Marin County prison. That’s not many given that several health experts have urged the state to reduce the facility’s population of 3,~00, which is above capacity, by half.
The surging coronavirus problem at San Quentin and other prisons threatens to impose more extrajudicial death sentences. It also endan
gers prison staffs and the broader community while burdening hospitals. San Quentin’s medical facilities are so overwhelmed that its prisoners are in hospitals in Marin and three other counties.
That is why state officials from Newsom down need to act quickly to solve a problem of their own creation. The fatal disaster at San Quentin began with a bungled transfer of infected inmates to the previously virusfree facility, which led to the ouster of the system’s statewide medical director.
Beyond more early releases, especially of older and medically vulnerable inmates, the state will need to provide more emergency care on prison grounds and find safer quarters for those who can’t be let go. .rison staff need protection, too.
State officials have reduced the prison population by more than 10,000 since anuary, to under 113,000, but Newsom has favored a slower pace than some medical experts, judges and advocates have called for, focusing on inmates close to the end of their sentences. Implicit in the state’s thinking is the public risk that releases pose, especially from a maximumsecurity prison such as San Quentin. Newsom has also expressed concern that released prisoners may have nowhere to go, though the anxious families of those incarcerated beg to differ.
The federal courts, which have overseen state prison conditions for a decade, are urging Sacramento to act more quickly, chiefly through enough releases to ease crowding.
Newsom this week toured the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, which handles many of the prison system’s sickest and frailest inmates. He was accompanied by U.S. District udge on Tigar, who has pressed state authorities to do more to stem the crowding that leads to more infections.
At best, the prisons are taking emergency steps: shipping sick inmates to local hospitals and setting up treatment tents on San Quentin’s grounds. That leaves the remaining inmates penned in their cells, another added punishment imposed by a badly run prison system.