11 Weekly Highlights from CDCR’s COVID-19 Crisis: In-Person Visitation to Resume in Phases From April 10

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By Julietta Bisharyan, Nick Gardner and Alexis Hogan 

 

CDCR Confirmed COVID-19 Cases and Outcomes

As of Mar. 27, there have been a total of 49,212 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the CDCR system – 39 of them emerged in the last two weeks. 40 cases are active in custody while 612 have been released while active. A total of 48,343 confirmed cases have been resolved since the start of the pandemic.

There have been 217 deaths across the CDCR system. 

In the past week, one incarcerated person reportedly died from complications associated with COVID-19 at Salinas Valley State Prison. CDCR officials have withheld their identity, citing medical privacy issues. 

As of Mar. 27, 79,583 individuals have received first-round vaccines statewide. 26,776 are staff members and 52,807 are of the incarcerated population.

Since the suspending in-person visiting statewide in March 2020, CDCR is beginning a phased reopening that will allow limited in-person visitation starting April 10.

“CDCR recognizes the value of visitation for the incarcerated population and the importance of maintaining family and community ties, which is why we have worked hard to be able to bring it back as quickly and as safely as possible,” CDCR Secretary Kathleen Allison said. “We also continue to work to reopen all rehabilitative programs so that the incarcerated population may take advantage of the life-changing opportunities available.”

According to CDCR, there will be significant changes to visiting operations, including temperature and symptom screenings, COVID-19 testing, physical distancing, face coverings, limiting the number of visitors at a given time, length of time allowed for each visit, etc. Video visitation, which has been ongoing at all state prisons since late last year, will continue.

The Warden and the CEO of each institution will determine whether facilities within institutions are safe to conduct in-person visiting. For each facility, the date of reopening will depend on the number of active cases. 

“This is an important step forward, and we will work with the incarcerated population, families and staff to ensure a smooth transition into this new normal,” Allison added.

In the past two weeks, the Correctional Training Facility has tested the most individuals— 78 percent of its population. Avenal State Prison has tested the least, just 11 percent of its population.

There are currently 94,942 incarcerated persons in California’s prisons – a reduction of 27,467 since March 2020, when the prison outbreaks first began.

Effect on Public

As of March 16, more than 45 percent of the incarcerated population in California have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.  

One CDCR prison, San Quentin, was significantly impacted by the pandemic. More than 70 percent of its population and 400 correctional staff have been infected. 28 inmates and one correctional staff member died. This outbreak prompted elderly and medically vulnerable incarcerated people to petition for release in the superior court; this court case in Marin county has yet to be decided, but there is still a possibility that prison officials may have to cut San Quentin’s population in half.

A busload of infected prisoners from California Institution for Men were transferred to San Quentin last summer. The testing and quarantine practices were inadequate, which lead to the spread of cases across San Quentin. Other factors contributed to the outbreak, for example, the old architecture allows air to flow freely through doors. 

Marin County Deputy Public Defender Christine O’Hanlon, who represents 249 men at San Quentin, asserts that the conditions of confinement at the prison violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

In October of last year, the First District Appellate Court had ordered prison officials to reduce San Quentin’s population by 50 percent in order to allow proper social distancing and quarantining. Gov. Gavin Newsom and CDCR immediately appealed that order.

In February of this year, the Office of the Inspector General for prisons (OIG) released a report detailing how the inaction of prison officials has caused a ‘public health disaster’ at San Quentin. The OIG report cited the prison’s inability to property quarantine those exposed to COVID-19, as well as the inadequacy of testing for the virus. CDCR’s response to the OIG’s report stated that many of the citations were already remedied and improvements had been made in San Quentin.

On Feb. 24, the Appellate Court decided to move forward with an evidentiary hearing in which the testimony of people will be presented and entered into a public record, however, the date has yet to be determined.

The state is arguing that reducing the population by half is no longer necessary since vaccines have been prioritized for incarcerated people in California. O’Hanlon counters with the assertion that CDCR should be held accountable for its conduct in order to discourage and deter similar conduct in the future. O’Hanlon also states the need to address the broader issue of the prison system’s neglect of inmate healthcare in general. This case could set an important precedent for other California prisons that have also been significantly impacted by the pandemic.

This section contains information first reported by KQED. For more, please visit: https://www.kqed.org/news/11865491/after-a-year-of-covid-19-outbreaks-california-prisons-reckon-with-mistakes

Updates from Plata v. Newsom 

Vaccines:

As of March 22, 47 percent of CDCR residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Total immunity, which includes fully-vaccinated individuals as well as those with COVID antibodies, sits at 78 percent.

90 percent of the incarcerated population at Avenal State Prison, CA Men’s Colony, CA Rehabilitation Center, Correctional Training Facility, Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, Mule Creek State Prison, and Valley State Prison boast immunity.

Out of the 71 percent of individuals who have been offered the vaccine, 67 percent have accepted. Among COVID-naive patients 65+, 99 percent have been offered with a 90 percent acceptance rate. 

Population Reduction:

Since intake from county jails resumed on Feb. 3, the total CDCR population has increased by more than 600. 

CDCR’s early release program has continued through the recession in cases, reprieving roughly 350 sentences per month. Earlier this month, Gov. Newsom awarded an additional 11 commutations for individuals with a heightened risk of contracting serious COVID symptoms.

In 2020, credits earned by CDCR populations totaled 8,649,378 days, nearly double the 4,428,779 days recorded in 2019 despite a 22 percent reduction in total population. This is in light of CDCR’s efforts to increase credit-earning opportunities to counterbalance the pandemic’s halting of regular credit programs.

Quarantine and Isolation:

As of March 18, 5,097 individuals remain quarantined. 

Rule Violation Reports (RVRs), CDCR’s means to discipline incarcerated people, spiked at institutions such as CSP LA County, where 83 citations were issued to those refusing bed moves during the November-January surge in cases. According to the Defendants, 533 video visits, offered out of recognition for the inconvenience of such moves, were promised but never seen through. 

Intake: 

Intake from select counties has resumed at North Kern State Prison, Wasco State Prison, and Central CA Women’s Facility. For the weeks of March 8, 15, and 22, these institutions accepted 476, 425, and 590 individuals, respectively. However according to the Plaintiff, recent intake practices are in violation of a stipulated March 3 plan. Specifically, CDCR claims that eight-person dormitories at the Central CA Women’s Facility held no more than four residents were determined to be false, and records pointed to a COVID-positive arrival with seven roommates. 

Ventilation:

A task force of experts from UCSF and UC Berkeley concluded that ventilation at the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility effectively converted cell blocks at the prison into large dorms that facilitated the spread of the virus. The team recommended that SATF drastically reduce housing density and purchase air filters that satisfy CDC-suggested standards for viral capture. 

CDCR Staff

There have been at least 16,090 cases of COVID-19 reported among prison staff. 26 staff members have died while 15,884 have returned to work. 206 cases are still active.

CDCR Comparisons – California and the US

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

California makes up 12.5 percent of total cases among incarcerated people and 8.6 percent of the total deaths in prison.

California also makes up 15 percent of total cases and 13 percent of total deaths among prison staff.

Division of Juvenile Justice

As of March 27, there are no active cases of COVID-19 among youth at the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facilities. 204 cases have been resolved since the first case was diagnosed in June.

A Year Ago Today

Last year, on March 27, 2020, there were a total of five active cases of COVID-19 in the CDCR facilities. A year later, there has been an increase of 984,140 percent for cumulative cases and an increase of 700 percent for active cases.

At that time, California only had 4,679 cases within the state. As of today, California has had a total of 3.66 million cases.

 

References 

https://www.kqed.org/news/11865491/after-a-year-of-covid-19-outbreaks-california-prisons-reckon-with-mistakes

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About The Author

Aparna Komarla leads the Covid In-Custody project, which partners with the Davis Vanguard to bring reporting on the pandemic's impact on county jails and CDCR to the public eye. See www.covidincustody.org for more information.

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