Letter: Involuntary Prison Transfers


Editor’s note: The following letter was submitted on behalf of a number of incarcerated people at San Quentin regarding a new involuntary transfer policy.

Dear Governor Newsom,

We represent a large number of incarcerated people in San Quentin. We have learned of the new involuntary transfer policies, along with the recent lift of medical holds that were put into place to protect our clients’ health and safety, in order to facilitate transferring these individuals. We write to implore you to stop the California Department of Corrections from transferring any of our clients without their consent or an opportunity for counsel to weigh in on these decisions.

The current wave of COVID-19 outbreaks across the state prison system is the worst we have seen to date. Every prison in the state has active COVID-19 infections with 5,751 incarcerated persons infected, 95 deaths among the incarcerated population, and 2,393 infected staff members. The medical system throughout the state is already strained and cannot handle an influx into ICUs due to prisons’ failures to properly manage the virus. Stay at home orders are in place because of the severe threat to public health.

Against this backdrop, transfers are exponentially more dangerous than they were two weeks ago, and they will be more dangerous two weeks from now. The humanitarian crisis within the carceral system these last nine months has only become more dire, demanding renewed attention and a changed direction. It is clear that the California Department of Corrections cannot, and should not, be the sole arbiter to manage this crisis. This is a uniquely complicated issue, implicating public health, racial justice, and our basic moral principles as a society. Ensuring the wellbeing of the incarcerated population and elevating their dignity and our own is only possible if we all work together.

Transfer alone cannot protect the health of those most vulnerable given the continued overcrowding that has resulted in a 26% infection rate, over 8 times

that of the free population who can follow the public health recommendations. Moreover, transfer decisions are complex and require that experts in public health and the incarcerated person be consulted prior to any such moves. We urge you to focus on reducing the population by building on and expanding expedited release programs.

Therefore, while we recognize that some transfers are inevitable, we implore you to stop involuntary transfers to preserve the rights, dignity, and lives of our incarcerated clients. We request that we be included in transfer decisions out of San Quentin by giving incarcerated individuals advanced notice that they have been slated for transfer and the opportunity to consult with an attorney.

We would welcome the opportunity to meet and discuss this issue with you.


San Francisco Public Defender’s Office

Marin County Public Defender’s Office

Alameda County Public Defender’s Office

California Public Defender Association

California Attorneys For Criminal Justice

Uncommon Law

Law Office of Charles Carbone

Law Office of Matthew Siroka

Foley and Lardner

Keker, Van Nest, and Peters

Sanger Swysen and Dunkle

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About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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