Last week you may have seen it, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced on Thursday that it had reduced its prison population below 100,000 incarcerated people for the first time in 30 years.
By the end of July, the in-prison population was 99,929.
“The last time that number was below 100,000 was in 1990, when California’s overall population was almost 10 million less than it is today,” CDCR said.
The coverage noted that since March, CDCR has reduced the population of its prisons by 14,856 through early release programs and decreasing intake from county jails. Incarcerated people were also released under special state provisions that took effect July 10.
But it is not accurate.
The figure being cited in the media is the number in the institutions. But that’s not the total population. They are not counting 2528 in the camps which pushes the number to 102,457. They are not counting the total in-custody, CRPP Supervision population which is actually 106,881.
As someone familiar with the situation pointed out that 99,929 does not count inmates in contract beds, most of them run by private prisons or those in fire camps.
As the source noted, “If any of those inmates went home for the weekend they would be guilty of escape. They can’t wear their own clothes or eat what they want. 2,054 of them are guarded by CCPOA employees at a prison the state rents from Core Civic out in the desert in California City.”
CDCR naturally is trying to lower the heat on itself caused when they mishandled a prison transfer from the California Institution for Men (CIM) in Chino and failed to test or isolate the new arrivals, who proceeded to infect the rest of the population.
As of July 31, there have been 47 deaths systemwide, with San Quentin Prison (SQ) and CA Institution for Men making up 80 percent of that total.
San Quentin has shot past a grim milestone. Since the death penalty resumed in 1978, 13 people have been executed. However, in the past month, 21 people have died from COVID.
The latest announced was 48-year-old Orlando Romero who died on August 2 at an outside hospital. The press release claims his death “appears to be from complications related to COVID-19.”
Romero was sentenced to death in 1996 in Riverside County for first-degree murder and second-degree robbery while armed with a firearm.
Healthcare experts have warned prison officials about the risk of COVID given the lack of possible social distancing, and many people struggling with pre-existing health conditions and with inadequate sanitation and health care.
On July 26, a group of 757 California healthcare workers signed a letter to Gavin Newsom and CDCR warning about the improper handling of the pandemic and expressing “outrage at the conditions of the California Prison system.” They add, “San Quentin is a travesty, but it is not an anomaly.
“Our slow response to these warnings, both then and now, will be remembered as one of the most flagrant acts of gross medical negligence in our lifetimes,” they write.
They note, “While we applaud the recent decision to release 8,000 individuals, this action is woefully insufficient to address the crisis we now face.”
Instead, they recommend, officials “begin the process of reducing the overall prison population to below 50% of current capacity, to halt all transfers between correctional facilities, and to follow public health guidance.”
The letter is pointed, noting “that behind each of these data points is a human being. They are fathers, mothers, sons, neighbors, and best friends. They are Californians and they do not deserve to die.”
They continue, saying that “as our nation reckons with the devastation of 400 years of anti-Black racism, and an even longer history of anti-indigenous violence, we cannot ignore the fact that mass incarceration is the product of systems of policing and jurisprudence that disproportionately harm Black Californians.
“The State’s failure to respond is an act of racial violence,” they conclude.
Given the amount of criticism, it is no wonder that CDCR would love to announce that they have made progress. Unfortunately, their announcement is misleading at best and on its surface blatantly untrue.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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