jail cells
Example of jail cells. Photo via Pixabay

Early release from prison is under consideration Monday as the California Department of Corrections announced the first inmate tested positive for the coronavirus in Lancaster.

“The patient is in stable condition and is being treated on-site,” the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a statement released Sunday.

The patient is an inmate at California State Prison in Lancaster and has been in isolation since March 19, when he reported not feeling well. He was tested the following day and results were received Sunday, the agency reported.

Five state prison staff members have also tested positive — two each at the California Institution for Men in Chino and California State Prison in Sacramento and one other at Folsom State Prison.

“We are working to provide updated testing numbers on our website this week,” the agency’s statement says.

Movement will be restricted at the Lancaster prison while an investigation is conducted to determine the source of contact, and those deemed at risk will be quarantined, according to the CDCR.

The announcement came a day after a state task force held discussions about steering California’s incarcerated population through the storm of the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller on Friday ordered the task force effort during a telephone status hearing, the Los Angeles Times reported. The hearing was for updates on prison mental health but instead dwelt almost entirely on COVID-19.

Lawyers for the governor’s office, corrections department, Department of State Hospitals and those representing prisoners in long-running litigation over prison conditions met, The Times reported.

At Mueller’s direction, the prison population is on the table, said plaintiff’s attorney Michael Bien.

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.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has raised the bail amount for booking inmates to $50,000 from $25,000, to increase the number of people getting citations rather than booked into jail.

Villanueva’s department has also reduced the jail population by 6% as of March 20, in part to prepare for the need to set up quarantine areas, The Times reported.

“We anticipate the count is going to go further down,” Cmdr. Jason Wolak of the Sheriff’s Department’s Custody Division told the newspaper on Friday. “The reason why we’re doing it is so we can have flexibility in the jail in case we’re going to lose a part of it (to quarantine).”

An update on those jail numbers was not immediately available from the Sheriff’s Department.

At least two high-profile inmates convicted in the university admissions scandal requested early release from federal prison due to the coronavirus, The Times reported Monday.

A request by businessman Devin Sloane, whose four-month term at Lompoc is due to end April 1, was denied by U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani, who said Sloane needed to exhaust administrative options for early release before coming to the court.

However, Talwani granted early release to Agustin Huneeus Jr. on March 17, two weeks before his five-month sentence was set to end, citing “extraordinary and compelling reasons,” according to the newspaper.

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