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Estimates of 8,000 inmates could be eligible for release by end of August, in addition to the state’s reduction of about 10,000 persons since the start of the pandemic

July 11, 2020 - SACRAMENTO – The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announced on Friday additional cdcr logoactions to protect its most vulnerable population and staff from COVID-19, and to allow state prisons to maximize available space to implement physical distancing, isolation, and quarantine efforts. The department estimates up to 8,000 currently incarcerated persons could be eligible for release by end of August under these new measures, further decompressing facilities.

“We’re glad the Governor is taking action to release more people. This is absolutely critical for the health and safety of every Californian. Too many people are incarcerated for too long in facilities that spread poor health. Supporting the health and safety of all Californians means releasing people unnecessarily incarcerated and transforming our justice system.” Jay Jordan, Executive Director, Californians for Safety and Justice

CDCR’s previous pandemic emergency decompression efforts have reduced inmate populations systemwide by approximately 10,000, to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission within its facilities.   

“These actions are taken to provide for the health and safety of the incarcerated population and staff,” CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz said. “We aim to implement these decompression measures in a way that aligns both public health and public safety.”

Under release authority granted to the CDCR Secretary, which allows alternative confinement or release in any case in which an emergency endangering the lives of incarcerated persons has occurred or is imminent, CDCR is pursuing a series of cohorted release efforts.

Some categories of releases will require additional review for certain incarcerated persons, and some cohorts will be screened on a rolling basis. The department estimates, that through these new efforts up to an estimated 8,000 currently incarcerated persons will be eligible for release.

All individuals will be tested for COVID-19 within seven days of release. CDCR is working closely with stakeholders, local law enforcement partners, and other agencies to leverage state and federal resources for housing in the community to help meet the reentry needs of these individuals. For all those releasing under these efforts, CDCR is making victim notifications in accordance with all CDCR procedures and state law.

“The Anti-Recidivism Coalition is encouraged by the Governor’s response to the dramatic spread of COVID-19 through California’s prisons. During these difficult times, it is vital that we all work to protect this vulnerable population and treat them with the dignity and compassion they deserve.” Sam Lewis, Exec Director of Anti Recidivism Coalition.

“After witnessing the deadly effects of COVID-19 inside California’s dangerously overcrowded prisons, Governor Newsom’s plan is the right decision to help protect the lives of people living and working inside prisons and in surrounding communities.  In taking this important step, the Governor is following the universal advice of public health and medical experts.  We applaud the Governor for working on two crucial fronts:  getting the most vulnerable people out of harm’s way and stemming the spread of COVID-19 inside prisons and neighboring communities.” -Anne Irwin, Director, Smart Justice California.

New efforts:

Release and credit-earning actions

180-day release

This statewide cohort is currently being screened and released on a rolling basis in order to continuously create more space in all institutions throughout the pandemic. CDCR estimates that 4,800 people could be eligible for release by the end of July.

In order to be eligible, inmates must meet the following criteria:

  • Have 180 days or less to serve on their sentence
  • Are not currently serving time for domestic violence or a violent crime as defined by law
  • Have no current or prior sentences that require them to register as a sex offender under Penal Code 290
  • Not have an assessment score that indicates a high risk for violence

One-year release

CDCR is also reviewing for release incarcerated persons with 365 days or less to serve on their sentence, and who reside within identified institutions that house large populations of high-risk patients.

The institutions are: San Quentin State Prison (SQ), Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF), California Health Care Facility (CHCF), California Institution for Men (CIM), California Institution for Women (CIW), California Medical Facility (CMF), Folsom State Prison (FOL) and Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (RJD).

In order to be eligible, inmates must meet the following criteria:

  • Have 365 days or less to serve on their sentence
  • Are not currently serving time for domestic violence or a violent crime as defined by law
  • Have no current or prior sentences that require them to register as a sex offender
  • Not have an assessment indicating a high risk for violence

Individuals who are 30 and over and who meet the eligibility criteria are immediately eligible for release. Those who meet these criteria and are age 29 or under will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis for release. CDCR will consider medical risk, case factors, and time served, among other factors, in determining whether to expedite release for those identified in this cohort.

These cohorts will be screened on a rolling basis until CDCR determines such releases are no longer necessary.

Positive Programming Credits

To recognize the impact on access to programs and credit earning during the COVID-19 pandemic, CDCR will award a one-time Positive Programming Credit (PPC) to all eligible incarcerated people.

This credit of 12 weeks will be awarded to help offset not only credits not earned due to program suspensions, but also to recognize the immense burden incarcerated people have shouldered through these unprecedented times.

In order to be eligible to receive this credit, an incarcerated individual must:

  • Currently incarcerated
    • This includes all 35 adult institutions, community correctional facilities, fire camps, Male Community Reentry Program, Community Prisoner Mother Program, Custody to Community Transitional Program, Alternative Custody Program, and those serving a state prison sentence in a state hospital.
  • Not be condemned to death or serving life without the possibility of parole
    • As this authorization exists in state law and therefore does not require a regulation change, CDCR must follow the exclusions outlined in the law, which means those serving life without the possibility of parole and people who are condemned are not eligible for credit earning.
  • No serious rules violations between March 1 and July 5, 2020
    • This encompasses all Division “A” through “F” offenses, which include but are not limited to murder, rape, battery, assault, arson, escape, possession/distribution of contraband, possession of a cellphone, and gang activity.

CDCR estimates that nearly 108,000 people will be eligible for PPC. Of these, about 2,100 would advance to the point they are eligible for release between July and September.

High-Risk Medical

Individuals deemed “high risk” are considered to be at greater risk for morbidity and mortality should they contract COVID-19. They include people over age 65 who have chronic conditions, or those with respiratory illnesses such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In order to be eligible, incarcerated persons must meet the following criteria:

  • Deemed high risk for COVID-19 complications by CCHCS
  • Not serving LWOP or condemned
  • Have an assessment indicating a low risk for violence
  • No high-risk sex offenders (HRSO)
    • HRSO indicates a convicted sex offender who is required to register pursuant to Penal Code Section 290, and has been identified to pose a higher risk to commit a new sex offense in the community, as determined using a standard risk assessment tools for sex offenders.

Based on individual review of each incarcerated person’s risk factors, an estimated number of releases in this cohort is not available.

Additional release efforts

CDCR is reviewing potential release protocols for incarcerated persons who are in hospice or pregnant, as they are considered at high risk for COVID-19 complications. Everybody will be reviewed based on both their current health risk and risk to public safety.

CDCR will also be expediting the release of incarcerated persons who have been found suitable for parole by the Board of Parole Hearings and Governor, but who have not yet been released from prison.

Previous Decompression Efforts:

These new measures build on many others already taken to reduce the risk of COVID-19 to all who work and live in the state prison system. Those measures include:

  • Reducing CDCR’s population in its institutions by more than 10,000 since mid-March.
  • Implemented measures to support increased physical distancing, including reducing the number of people who use common spaces at the same time, transferring people out of lower level dorms to celled housing, and erecting tents to create alternate housing and care sites.
  • Suspension of movement within and between institutions, other than for critical purposes.
  • Suspension of visitation, volunteers, and group programming.
  • Implemented mandatory verbal and temperature screenings for staff before they enter any institutions and other CDCR work sites
  • Reinforced commitment to hygiene, both institutional and personal, including greater availability of soap and hand sanitizer.
  • Providing educational materials to all staff and incarcerated people, including posters, quick reference pocket guides, webinars, and educational videos.
    Source: CDCR

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