State must do bet­ter on pris­ons

San Francisco Chronicle - - MARKETPLAC­E -

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.

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