The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has announced it will release prisoners left with a year or less to serve in the cells, in order to check the spread of the coronavirus inside prison systems, according to media reports.
As much as 8000 prisoners will be released by the end of August, in what is being seen as California’s biggest move yet to lessen the prison population and make way for social distancing and quarantine by creating more space, while making the system safe for the staff and the incarcerates.
These estimated 8k prisoners will join the 10k prisoners the state has released since the onset of the pandemic, according to the department’s official statement.
The Los Angeles Times noted the unprecedented move comes after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s top officials bought the matter of the spread of COVID-19 in prisons to light. Reportedly more than 2,300 prisoners across jails in California were affected by the novel coronavirus. At least 13 have died from the virus and related illnesses.
The move also follows a reduction in the number of inmates inside prisons, which was reduced by thousands since the pandemic began and California was put into a state of emergency in March. This move will primarily target eight California state prisons which are at high risk for a larger spread.
But such a move arguably raises questions of public safety, as much as it does for public health. In a statement to media, Gov. Newsom said prisoners with a crime defined by the state as violent or involving domestic violence will not be released. Also, prisoners who will be deemed high risk or those required to be registered as sex offenders will be held back.
The eligibility of the release, as WeTheWorld Magazine noted from the official statement has been designed in the two-tire system – one, with 180 days remaining to serve, and two, with 1 year remaining to serve jail. Both will have conditions designed for the safety of the public.
“We aim to implement these decompression measures in a way that aligns both public health and public safety,” corrections Secretary Ralph Diaz told in a written statement. “These actions are taken to provide for the health and safety of the incarcerated population and staff.”
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., conducted by the researchers at UCLA and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found, inmates in US prisons tested positive for the virus 5.5 times faster than the general public.
According to California Department of Public Health (CDPH), the state has recorded more than 300k cases and more than 6k fatalities.