Reduce the CA prison population to mitigate the spread of Covid-19

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CDCR is currently at 136% design capacity. Inmates are living in dorms and cells that do not allow for social distancing, and conditions in CDCR facilities have been found to be unsanitary. With in the facilities there is limited availability for healthcare, and many inmates do not receive adequate care. The prison population is a vulnerable population due to the high levels of pre-existing conditions. The spread of Covid-19 within institutions is increasing daily, especially at institutions where inmates are housed in dorms. To date CDCR has only tested 0.3% of the inmate population- only those actively showing symptoms. As we know, individuals can remain asymptomatic and continue to spread the virus - therefore there is no way to know how far the virus has already spread. Staff infection numbers are self-reported, and likely do not represent the number actually infected.

Due to CDCR’s limited capacity to provide the appropriate medical care, local community hospitals will soon be overwhelmed and unable to treat the incarcerated population. Corrections Officers and staff are at risk of transmitting the virus to family members, intensifying the impact of Covid on local communities. Additionally as more staff are on sick leave, staff shortages will make it difficult to adequately staff facilities at the current population levels.

To date, CDCR’s attempts to mitigate the spread of the virus have been inadequate. This level of inaction is a clear violation of the 8th amendment that protects against cruel and unusual punishment. The guidelines they are stating the institutions are supposed to be following are not being implemented across the board on the institution level - inmates are scared, waiting to be infected, and are afraid that their sentence will become a death sentence. 

We are asking Governor Newsom to do the humane thing and release enough inmates so that prisons operate at below 100% capacity to allow inmates to follow guidelines from the CDC. This will require extraordinary steps to effectively, and safely  release inmates who do not pose a risk to public safety. Many could be placed on home detention, monitored by electronic ankle devices, and supervised by the department of Parole/probation. There are many individuals with 5 years or less to serve, who have solid parole plans, and whose release would not place an undue risk to community safety or burden local resources. Inmates over 65 and those with underlying medical conditions such as asthma, auto-immune diseases, cancer etc. should be a priority for release.

Given the enormity of this pandemic, and the risk of extreme adverse consequences to those incarcerated, it is imperative that immediate action is taken. 

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