Protests at Gov. Newsom’s Residence Demand Immediate Decarceration Amid Rising Death Toll

Davis Vanguard’s weekly highlights from CDCR’s COVID-19 crisis

CDCR Confirmed COVID-19 Cases and Outcomes

As of Jan. 16, there have been 45,174 total confirmed COVID-19 cases in the CDCR system – 3,813 of them emerged in the last two weeks. 4,348 cases are active in custody while 646 were released while active. Roughly 88 percent of confirmed cases were resolved.

There have been 175 deaths across CDCR. 92 people are currently receiving medical care at outside healthcare facilities.

In the past week, 25 people have died from complications related to COVID-19 at California Medical Facility (CMF), Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (RJD), Correctional Training Facility (CTF), California Health Care Facility (CHCF), Kern Valley State Prison (KVSP),  California State Prison, Solano (SOL), North Kern State Prison (NKSP), California Men’s Colony (CMC) and California City Correctional Facility (CAC).

This is the first death reported at CAC.

CDCR officials have withheld their identities citing medical privacy issues. 

At CMC, active cases have doubled over the past two weeks. On Jan. 3, CMC had 586 cases. They now have 1,140 active cases. It has the highest number of active cases and nearly one-fourth of CDCR’s total active cases. The prison now has nearly three times as many active cases as the second highest-ranking prison –– Correctional Training Facility (CTF).

Former Warden Josie Gastelo retired on Dec. 31 as the outbreak at CMC worsened.

According to CDCR, a total of 442 CMC employees have tested positive while 127 are still active.

On Jan. 13, CDCR and CCHCS issued an updated Patient Movement Matrix, which outlines mandated COVID-19 quarantine, testing and screening timeframes to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 throughout the prisons.

Recreation yard access, meal service and medical appointments are being scheduled staggeringly to limit the number of incarcerated people present in an area at a given time.

According to Terri Hardy, spokesperson for CDCR, all staff are required to wear surgical masks while performing duties on prison grounds along with personal protective equipment (PPE) if required based on public health guidance.

N-95 masks are to used by staff and the incarcerated population in isolation housing areas, custody/medical staff and individuals being transported off grounds as well as the transportation staff. 

In addition, all staff are screened verbally and by temperature check whenever entering the institution. All incarcerated individuals have been provided numerous cloth facial barriers and are regularly provided cleaning supplies, with additional supplies provided upon request.

As of Jan. 14, 22,714 individuals have received the first-round of vaccines statewide. 20,136 are staff and 2,568 are patients. 

“We are prioritizing vaccine distribution in a manner that is consistent with CDPH guidelines. It is our intent to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to all CDCR and CCHCS employees and incarcerated individuals,” writes CDCR.

In the past two weeks, California State Prison Solano (SOL) has tested the most individuals, 76 percent of its population.

Kern Valley State Prison (KVSP) has tested the least, just 13 percent of its population.

There are currently 94,847 incarcerated persons in California’s prisons – a reduction of 27,562 since March 2020, when the prison outbreaks first began.

Effect on Public

Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF), a women’s correctional facility in Chowchilla, recently reported an uptick in cases that residents attribute to poor living conditions and improper quarantine procedure.

“The conditions are filthy. There’s dust everywhere, torn mattress, rusted bunks. There’s little to no access to cleaning supplies,” an incarcerated woman admitted in a conversation with Aminah Elster, the policy coordinator at the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. 

As a community advocate and formerly incarcerated person herself, Elster has established contact with multiple women inside VSP, many of whom have spoken to the lack of medical attention in quarantine units. Most shockingly, however, are reports that many were not required to quarantine despite testing positive.

“In unit 512 for instance, if individuals test positive, there have been instances where they were allowed to go back into that unit and coexist with other people that haven’t tested positive,” a woman told Elster.

CDCR has denied allegations of wrongdoing at CCWF.

Eugene Hernandez added to the accounts Elster has collected. His granddaughter is currently incarcerated at the Chowchilla facility.

“She tells me they’re not providing any medical care for the women who are quarantined,” Hernandez told KVPR. 

With the unprecedented surge of COVID-19 across California prisons demonstrators gathered at Gov. Newsom’s residence on Saturday, Jan. 16 to bring attention to the State’s failure to mitigate the pandemic and demand immediate emergency releases of those incarcerated. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, legislators, courts, activists and health experts have urged CDCR to drastically reduce prison populations to manage this crisis. The most recent surges occurred in Ironwood State Prison, California Men’s Colony, Central California Women’s Facility, and Correctional Training Facility. These facilities are among the worse hit.

With the infection rate within California prisons nearing almost 50 percent, Dr. Peter Hotez, Professor of Molecular Biology and Virology, Baylor College of Medicine called every COVID-19 related death preventable.

He says this is especially true for California prisons because those who could be socially distancing are being forcibly placed in close quarters and in unsanitary conditions with very few safety protocols for staff.

The California courts believe CDCR has an obligation to resolve the public health crisis that could have been prevented. Last October, a three-judge panel of California’s First District Court of Appeal ruled that CDCR violated the Eighth Amendment by acting with deliberate indifference towards prisoners. The court ordered San Quentin to reduce its population by 50 percent to allow for social distancing. 

Also, the federal courts urged Governor Newsom during a July 6 emergency hearing and in a private meeting the next day to order a large-scale release of medically vulnerable prisoners who pose little danger to the public. However, instead of releasing prisoners, CDCR is transferring medically vulnerable persons from its worse-hit facilities to other prisons.

Although the ruling was limited to San Quentin, all CDCR facilities pose a high risk of COVID-19 transmission – packed, unventilated and housing people who physically cannot socially distance. 

Though CDCR reduced its overall population to under 100,000 since the beginning of the pandemic, health officials and activists say this is not enough. Many facilities are well over their capacities and thousands of individuals in county jails are awaiting transfers to state prisons. 

Protestors will gather under the motto: “No State Execution by COVID-19!” They believe the only human response to remedy California’s legacy of mass incarceration is to “decarcerate.” 

The grassroots coalition, No Justice Under Capitalism, is collaborating with families with loved ones inside CDCR prisons to facilitate this protest. Protestors will observe COVID-19 health protections, including social distancing and wearing masks while rallying. 

CDCR Staff

There have been at least 13,645 cases of COVID-19 reported among prison staff. 16 staff members have died while 11,576 have returned to work. 2,069 cases are still active.

Six staff members have recently died from COVID-19 at California State Prison, Los Angeles County (LAC), California Health Care Facility (CHCF), Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (RJD) and Valley State Prison (VSP).

CDCR Comparisons – California and the US

According to the Marshall Project, California prisons rank first in the country for the highest number of confirmed cases. Federal prisons follow closely behind, and Texas ranks third. 

California makes up 12.8 percent of total cases among incarcerated people and 7.5 percent of the total deaths in prison.

California also makes up 15 percent of total cases and 9 percent of total deaths among prison staff.

Division of Juvenile Justice

As of Jan. 16, there are 54 active cases of COVID-19 among youth at the Division of Juvenile Justice facilities. 135 cases have been resolved since the first case was diagnosed in June.



By Julietta Bisharyan, Nick Gardner and Jaskiran Soomal 

About The Author

The Covid In-Custody Project partners with the Davis Vanguard to report on the pandemic's impact on California's county jails and state prisons. See for more information.

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