San Quentin Prison Asking COVID-19 Devastated Prisoners to Accept Legal Liability for Own Deaths?

By Cres Vellucci
The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief

SAN QUENTIN  –  San Quentin State Prison – the stuff that movies are made of – has become a real live killing field this year after COVID-19 spread like a wildfire, as predicted, killing dozens.

Now, in a “bizarre” twist that makes the story even more unbelievable, incarcerated support groups have revealed that prisoners said that San Quentin medical staff have been “pressuring prisoners to sign waiver forms accepting legal responsibility for their own deaths from COVID-19.”

The First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco issued a decision, In re Ivan Von Staich (2020) 56 Cal.App.5th 53, ruling that the state correctional system violated the Eighth Amendment.

Finding state officials acted with “deliberate indifference” to the health of prisoners at San Quentin — where 75 percent tested positive for the coronavirus and 28 have died — the state appeals court took the unprecedented step of ordering at least half of the prison’s 2,900 inmates transferred

The courts ordered 1,700 prisoners transferred, but now prisoners have to waive their rights.

“Instead of accepting responsibility for their criminal neglect, Gov. Gavin Newsom and leaders at CDCR are now attempting to shift responsibility for their actions onto the backs of the victims of the state’s own incompetence and malfeasance,” said No Justice Under Capitalism (NJUC), a coalition that works on behalf of prisoners throughout California.

NJUC organized protests in front of San Quentin since last Spring, and in front of CA Dept. of Corrections offices in Sacramento, and at the front doorsteps of Gov. Newsom’s home.

NJUC has urged the immediate release of inmates because of the pandemic, and its “the only safe response to the COVID-19 crisis in California prisons, prioritizing elderly and immunocompromised prisoners, as well as prisoners whose sentences are almost over.”

Many prisoners are refusing to cooperate with demands of the state to accept an unsafe transfer to another state prison, said NJUC, revealing that those prisoners then are taken to the medical unit and “pressured by a nurse to accept an unsafe transfer to another California prison,” added NJUC.

NJUC noted that “The waiver form also demands that prisoners accept liability for being medically vulnerable and elderly. In fact, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported (December 6, 2020), CDCR has consistently refused to release at-risk elderly and immunocompromised prisoners, completely ignoring more than 5,200 out of the 6,500 at-risk prisoners in California prisons.

The form, provided to THE VANGUARD, states, in part: “I agree to hold the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the staff of the medical department and the institution free of any responsibility for injury or complications that may result from my refusal [of the transfer].”

The prisoner is then pressured to initial sentences such as:

“I understand that due to my age, I am at high risk for developing serious complications [from COVID-19] . . .”

“I understand that I have one or more medical conditions that makes me high risk for developing serious complications [from COVID-19] . . .”

“I understand that COVID-19 could lead to serious complications such as lengthy hospitalizations or even death.”

“I understand that living in places where individuals are in close contact and physical distancing is difficult to follow, such as prison dormitory [sic], will increases [sic] my risk of being infected by COVID-19.”

“Coercing prisoners to accept legal liability for their own deaths from COVID-19 is truly bizarre, given San Quentin’s documented, 10-month-long history of continuous indifference to prisoners’ lives – since the COVID-19 pandemic began, guards at San Quentin and throughout the California prison system have not worn masks, and moved freely between tiers,” said NJUC.

“A recent (October 2020) report by the California Office of the Inspector General states that prison staff frequently do not wear masks, and that there has only been one disciplinary action against a staff person, during the entire pandemic, at San Quentin for not wearing a mask,” added the support group.

And San Quentin has misled officials and the courts, charged NJUC, noting that in the gym at San Quentin, CDCR “claimed in June 2020 that prisoners were six feet apart when housed in bunk beds.

“In actuality, prisoners were only six feet apart if they slept head to toe and the distance was measured diagonally,” said NJUC.

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About The Author

Veteran news reporter and editor, including stints at the Sacramento Bee, Woodland Democrat, and Vietnam war correspondent and wire service bureau chief at the State Capitol.

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