Staff Violations of Masking and Testing Protocol at CDCR’s Youth Prisons, CSP Solano Surfaces

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By Julietta Bisharyan, Nick Gardner and Jaskiran Soomal 

 

Incarcerated Narratives

Incarcerated testimonies continue to pour in decrying administrative practices at CDCR’s CSP Solano (SLO).

In a recent submission to the San Francisco Bay View, an incarcerated person— choosing to speak anonymously out of the fear of retaliation— corroborated concerns of staff negligence, misguided protocol, and harsh living conditions voiced in prior Vanguard narratives. 

“Here in Solano Prison, our lives are literally being endangered by the administration and medical staff,” the submission read. “There is no set protocol here, so the administration takes it upon itself to determine what to do without thoroughly looking at the cause and effect of its actions.” 

More than once, individuals returning positive tests were relocated to sick units where they contracted COVID, only to later discover that the tests were inaccurate. 

The fiancé of a SLO resident reported an instance where her husband, who was completing a 14-day quarantine in a single-man unit, was paired with a positive individual for nine hours. The incident, which took place back in January, was first covered by Vanguard reporter Jaskiran Soomal. 

Furthermore, they are forced to battle the notoriously brutal symptoms of COVID-19 in conditions described by residents as “inhumane.” Some buildings are “firing hot,” while others can reach temperatures as low as 30 degrees. The gym, which serves as a makeshift infirmary, reportedly lacks central heating and ventilation, and is prone to roof leaks. 

Arguably the most concerning theme present throughout incarcerated testimonies is the blatant dismissal of the pandemic’s severity among staff, even as cases continue to surge past 1,100. 

A woman speaking anonymously to the Vanguard in early January described guards “laugh[ing] at the incarcerated people for wearing masks.” Despite an increase in cases exceeding 400 since this testimony, staff attitude remains nonchalant.

The C/Os (correctional officers), mainly the yard officers, have added to endangering the lives of the inmate population with their refusal to take safety measures to ensure they don’t contaminate or jeopardize inmates’ lives.”

Office of Inspector General (OIG) inspections commissioned in October serve to corroborate aspects of these claims. Inspectors noted “many” SLO staff improperly donning PPE equipment in a fashion that exposed parts of their cheek and nose. Two instances of staff noncompliance were additionally observed.

This section contains information first reported by the San Francisco Bay View. For more information, please visit: https://sfbayview.com/2021/02/report-from-behind-the-wall-at-csp-solano-cdcr-still-endangering-lives-after-a-year-of-covid/

CDCR Confirmed COVID-19 Cases and Outcomes

As of Feb. 26, there have been a total of 49,093 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the CDCR system – 325 of them emerged in the last two weeks. 372 cases are active in custody while 704 have been released while active. A total of 47,806 confirmed cases have been resolved since the start of the pandemic.

There have been 211 deaths across CDCR. Eleven individuals are currently receiving medical care at outside healthcare facilities.

In the past week, one person has reportedly died from complications related to COVID-19 at California Medical Facility.

CDCR officials have withheld their identities, citing medical privacy issues. 

 As of Feb. 24, 63,785 individuals have received first-round vaccines statewide, which is about 40 percent of people in the custody of California’s prison system. 24,990 are staff members and 38,795 are of the incarcerated population.

“We’re pleased at the pace that they have been going at and have constantly been urging the governor to continue that pace,” Sara Norman said, managing attorney for the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office. “Correction facilities have proven to be deadly. Like nursing homes, they are on top of the list of the deadliest places to be in this country.”

According to a filing submitted as part of the enforcement proceedings for Plata vs. Newsom, vaccines have been offered to patients at CDCR’s skilled nursing facilities or prison medical institutions. Vaccinations have been prioritized for patients ages 65 and older, followed by those at higher risk for COVID-19, some psychiatric patients, patients that require a higher level of care and incarcerate persons with jobs.

About 70 percent of incarcerated people who have been offered the vaccine have accepted it. Employees who receive the vaccine must still continue to wear personal protective equipment and practice social distancing according to CDCR guidance.

In the past two weeks, Correctional Training Facility has tested the most individuals, 52 percent of its population. CSP Sacramento has tested the least, just 11 percent of its population.

There are currently 94,628 incarcerated persons in California’s prisons – a reduction of 27,781 since March 2020, when the prison outbreaks first began.

CDCR Staff

There have been at least 15,755 cases of COVID-19 reported among prison staff. 26 staff members have died while 15,280 have returned to work. 475 cases are still active.

The most recent staff death was from California Institution for Women.

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 12.8 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 14 percent of total deaths among prison staff.

Division of Juvenile Justice

As of Feb. 26, there are no active cases of COVID-19 among youth at Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facilities. 203 cases have been resolved since the first case was diagnosed in June.

A recent decision was made based on Gov. Newsom’s proposed state budget for 2021-2022 to shut down youth prisons in DJJ by Jun. 30, 2023. This two-year process seems promising, however, a Policy Analyst for the Center on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, Maureen Washburn, feels it will be a bumpy road ahead. 

DJJ facilities have had a “dark chapter” in California’s history marked with violence, high rates of youth injuries, as well as increased suicide attempts. While the closure is set to take place, concerns for the safety, mental and physical wellbeing of those inside persists. It is predicted about 700 youth will be incarcerated in these facilities during the transition to closure. 

Washburn and other advocates have called for increased oversight within DJJ facilities to prevent the dangers and fear of violence that already swarm youth locked up inside. 

Notably, DJJ facilities have continued the intake of youth after suspending intake back in Nov. 2020. Given the circumstances of the pandemic, protocols are in place to intake no more than ten youth every two weeks. According to CDCR, new youth who arrive are housed separately and are tested twice for COVID-19 before being allowed to join the general population.

In regards to the pandemic, conditions within DJJ facilities are very similar to that of adult prison facilities. 

CDCR claims suspending family visitations ensures safety from spreading COVID-19. They have offered video-visitations and have given youth some free phone calls, but seeing how virtual communication has been implemented in adult facilities, especially between family members and those in quarantine, the reality in DJJ is presumably far from the picture painted by CDCR.

The Vanguard recently reported that at Mule Creek State Prison incarcerated people were being made to choose between phone calls and showers and were only given 15 minutes to do either. 

Washburn further explained how a staff member inside a DJJ facility reported a lack of external oversight and DJJ higher-ups being “totally unprepared” for the pandemic. They failed to produce an organized system for quarantining, isolation, and social distancing among youth and staff. 

“This ultimately produced repeated spikes of COVID-19 in the youth facilities with a high of 56 active youth cases in July/August 202, along with 46 staff cases.” 

The staff member told Washburn there was no plan once two youths came down with a fever and other symptoms and expressed, “The world was shut down, but we had no plan in place about what to do. Why did it take so long to get the word out? Why did it take so long to get the unit on quarantine?” 

DJJ facilities have experienced ups and downs with outbreaks. Ventura Youth Correctional Facility was unaffected until Jul. 17, when the first youth tested positive. Then a week later, 21 youths and one staff member contracted the virus. In December, DJJ cases dropped a little – by six – but January hit and cases spiked up to 54 active cases.

Similar to adult facilities, staff in DJJ did not comply with mask-wearing protocols and lied about having virus related symptoms in order to avoid using sick days. Some staff also skipped required weekly testing. 

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is a watchdog for adult facilities, but does little oversight for youth facilities. Washburn shares, “The OIG mostly investigates specific allegations of misconduct by corrections staff members. They do not assess or investigate conditions within youth facilities on an ongoing basis with unexpected visits and thorough reports.”

Patterns of neglect with youth inside are continuing to be ignored given the lack of oversight. The pandemic makes things even harder on incarcerated youth as it does for incarcerated adults. Washburn believes, “With fewer eyes on the system and staff morale sapped by closure plans, there is greater potential for the mistreatment of youth.”  Washburn, along with other advocates, are calling for increased oversight in youth facilities to help improve conditions prevent further violence from erupting. 

This section contains information first reported by Witness LA. For more information, please visit: https://witnessla.com/on-june-30-2023-cas-youth-prisons-will-close-their-doors-but-right-now-there-are-essential-steps-to-be-taken-for-youth-safety/

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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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