Early release from prison is on the table as a state task force begins discussions to navigate California’s incarcerated population through the coming storm of the coronavirus, according to the Los Angeles Times.
U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller Friday ordered the task force during a telephone status hearing. The hearing was for updates on prison mental health but instead dwelt almost entirely on COVID-19.
The task force’s first meeting was Saturday, involving lawyers for the governor’s office, corrections department, Department of State Hospitals and those representing prisoners in long-running litigation over prison conditions, the Times reported.
At Mueller’s direction, prison population is on the table, said plaintiff’s attorney Michael Bien.
The corrections department has steadfastly declined to answer questions about how many inmates are under watch with influenza-like illness, how many have been tested for COVID-19 and how many are under quarantine, the newspaper reported.
After a decade of sustained effort to reduce health-threatening overcrowding, California’s prison system remains at 134% capacity, with more than 114,000 inmates in state prisons built to hold 85,000. Another 8,700 prisoners are in camps and contracted private lockups.
Despite mounting pressure from civil liberties groups such as the ACLU and advocates for inmates, prison systems across the U.S. have thus far resisted calls to reduce their COVID-19 threats by releasing prisoners. Jail systems, however, have adopted such programs, including those in Los Angeles, Alameda, Santa Clara and San Francisco counties.
As of Saturday, the California Department of Corrections reported that no inmates have yet tested positive for COVID-19, though it announced three employees were infected, two at the California Institution for Men and one at California State Prison-Sacramento, located outside Folsom. A San Quentin State Prison employee who previously was reported to have tested positive, ultimately, was a negative case, the department said.