SF Public Defender’s Office Mobilizing to Release People from San Quentin Amid Escalating COVID-19 Outbreak

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Public Defender Mano Raju

Special To the Vanguard

With 2,582 incarcerated persons with active cases of COVID-19 in California prisons statewide, and over 1,100 people incarcerated in San Quentin testing positive, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office is mobilizing to free people as quickly as possible to prevent the continuing spread. The outbreak at San Quentin came after CDCR transferred 121 men from the CA Institute for Men (CIM), a known hotspot for the virus where 16 people have already died.

“At this point, the only way we can protect the lives of people at San Quentin and the larger public is to reduce the prison population as quickly as possible,” said Public Defender Mano Raju. “San Quentin is cited as the premier example of a rehabilitation- and redemption-focused institution. It is time to honor that image by releasing people based on who they are today, not based on what they may have done years or decades ago.”

“My office stands with the Incarcerated people inside San Quentin, as well as the San Quentin Inmate Family
Council
, and incarcerated people and their loved ones across the state, and fully supports their demands to the Governor and CDCR,” said Raju. “Not only is the treatment of incarcerated people inside California’s prisons unconscionable, but so is the lack of information and transparency regarding the outbreak,” he said.

To address this crisis head on, the Integrity Unit at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, which handles, among other things, post-conviction relief work, has mobilized to reach out to people in San Quentin who may be eligible for resentencing and reduced sentences under the law. “Many people incarcerated in California have served many years in prison and have worked towards personal growth through education, self-help programs, and gaining professional skills. Many living in San Quentin, and prisons across the state, are over 55, deemed low risk, and most have medical conditions that increase their risk of complications from COVID-19. My office has reached out to people in prisons throughout the state and intends to continue outreach to all who may be eligible,” said Raju.

Those who are released will be supported in their reentry plans, including support finding housing, additional community support, healthcare, employment options, cell phones and care packages. Public defender reentry staff will also assist with applying for benefits like health insurance and social security, obtaining state identification and a driver’s license, and continued job search as needed.

“We are committed to safe release and reentry for as many people as possible – made relatively easy when we see the phenomenal programming and work records of those in San Quentin,” said Danielle Harris, Managing Attorney of the Integrity Unit. “We are acting because neither the Governor nor the CDCR are addressing the emergency conditions in San Quentin or around the state, despite their broad authority. Knowing it is a matter of life and death for some, we are using whatever legal tools we have to urgently help these men and their families.”

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