10 Weekly Highlights from CDCR’s COVID Crisis: Decrease in GTL Costs to Save Families $17m per Year & More

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

CDCR Confirmed COVID-19 Cases and Outcomes

As of Mar. 5, there have been a total of 49,150 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the CDCR system – 175 of them emerged in the last two weeks. 197 cases are active in custody while 614 have been released while active. A total of 48,127 confirmed cases have been resolved since the start of the pandemic.

There have been 212 deaths across CDCR. Nine incarcerated persons are currently receiving medical care at outside healthcare facilities .

In the past week, one incarcerated person reportedly died from what complications related to COVID-19 at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility.

CDCR officials have withheld his identity, citing medical privacy issues. 

As of Mar. 5, 67,640  individuals have received first-round vaccines statewide. 25,806 are staff members and 41,834 are of the incarcerated population.

In the past two weeks, Correctional Training Facility has tested the most individuals, 55 percent of its population. California Men’s Colony has tested the least, just 7 percent of its population.

There are currently 94,608 incarcerated persons in California’s prisons – a reduction of 27,801 since March 2020, when the prison outbreaks first began.

CDCR Announcement 

Starting Mar. 19, 2021, telephone call costs for the incarcerated population will be significantly reduced as part of a new six-year contract between CDCR and Global Tel*Link Corporation (GTL).

Nationwide calls will cost 2.5 cents per minute, a reduction of 5.1 cents per minute for local calls and calls within California, and a reduction of 18.5 cents per minute for telephone calls outside of California. 

Regular 15-minute telephone calls anywhere in the U.S. will cost only 37.5 cents while international telephone calls will cost 7 cents per minute, a reduction of 68 cents per minute.

The fee to establish a GTL account, which was previously $3, has also been eliminated. In addition, telephone calls for youth in the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) will remain free of charge. Collectively, these changes will save incarcerated people and their families more than $17 million each year.

“The communication between our incarcerated population and their loved ones is paramount to their rehabilitation. This reduction in the cost of telephone calls is the result of the hard work of our Administration and staff, and the commitment to make this communication affordable and accessible,” CDCR Secretary Kathleen Allison said.

Plata v. Newsom – Case Management Conference


As of February 25, 78 percent of CDCR’s incarcerated population has either received a dose of the vaccine or has already contracted COVID, the latter grants temporary immunity.

Of the 62 percent of population who have been offered the vaccine, 65 percent have accepted, with relatively high confidence among at-risk groups: 87 percent of COVID naive patients 65+, 88 percent of COVID naive patients with a weighted risk score of 6+, and 81 percent of COVID naive patients with a risk score of 3+ have accepted immunization.

In total, CDCR has administered at least one dose of the vaccine to 40 percent of its residents and 41 percent of staff. 

Quarantine and Isolation

Active cases, which peaked at around 9500 in mid-December, have fallen below 200 as of March 5. Despite this trend, the CA Correctional Healthcare Services (CCHCS) affirmed that more than 9,000 individuals are currently under quarantine.

Attorneys of the Prison Law Office and RBGG (Plaintiff), voiced concern over quarantine practices, which alter residents’ daily regimen and place serious limitations on movement. For individuals who have acclimated to a set routine after years behind bars, abrupt changes in environment are difficult to tolerate. CCHCS announced plans to review long-term quarantine orders (periods of 30-days).

Staff Screening and Testing

Contested data from January to mid-February claims that 4,000 to 6,000 CDCR staff members were not tested each week per department protocol. CDCR raised questions as to the integrity of the data, rejecting any notion of incompetency. 

Instances of staff non-compliance have been recurring since the start of the pandemic, particularly among correctional officers, a largely conservative cohort. CCHCS’s response has been a screening policy dependent on self-reporting by staff to determine testing needs, which the Plaintiff opposes in favor of an independent system that will better ensure accuracy.

Face Coverings at CSP Solano

CDCR hardened its punitive approach to resident non-compliance at CSP Solano. Consistent with protocol for employees, contractors, and visitors who fail to don face-coverings, CDCR has instructed staff to issue rules violations to non-compliant residents. A rules violation may result in loss of time credits and can serve as grounds for a parole board to deny early-release.


Since resuming intake from county jails in early January, CDCR has accepted roughly 500 new individuals each week. Secretary Kathleen Allison confirmed that 10,700 people are awaiting transfer from county jails, and CDCR is yet to require that intakes be vaccinated before being received by a state prison.

555 intakes were scheduled to resume the week of March 1.  

Effect on Public

CDCR prohibited in-person visits to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and announced video visiting and extra phone calls as an alternative. However, the implementation of these newly designed programs has been abysmal. 

It has been incredibly difficult for families to reach their loved ones behind bars, especially those who are in quarantine or who have been hospitalized. For Santos Ruiz, by the time he heard from prison doctors, his father had already been in St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco for two weeks. 

Santos was not even aware his father contracted the virus, this was the very first time he was hearing about the situation, and the doctor on the phone said, “We don’t think he’s going to make it.”

Santos expressed, “It wasn’t right. They waited to a point where a person can’t talk, a person can’t communicate with his family that loved him.”

His father, Daniel Ruiz, incarcerated at San Quentin, was admitted to an outside hospital days after testing positive because he was experiencing worsening shortness of breath. Within a week, he had to be placed on a ventilator. Daniel’s family did not know of his condition until two weeks later. 

They gathered for video visits and wanted to make sure he knew they were there for him. Daniel’s sons drove down to San Francisco from Sacramento to say goodbye as their father was going to be disconnected from the ventilator. The brothers recited prayers, with the rest of their family watching remotely. As they were driving back home, they learned their father had passed. 

CDCR would not comment on whether there are policies that prevent hospitals from contacting families and loved ones of incarcerated patients. During Daniel’s time in the hospital, a prison medical surrogate had authorized multiple procedures such as kidney dialysis and a catheter insertion. His medical records did not indicate that he consented for a prison surrogate to make his medical decisions, it should have been his closest family members. 

Daniel’s family has filed a legal claim against CDCR and medical staff for failure to notify them about his medical crisis and allowing for proper medical decisions to be made on his behalf once he went on a ventilator.

Many families have had similar experiences with CDCR. They did not receive a phone call from the designated correctional facility until it was too late to say their goodbyes, or to act as surrogate decision-makers, and/or provide critical emotional support. 

Under CDCR’s video visit protocols, incarcerated individuals are given a free 30-minute video visit every 30 days. These visits take place on weekends and holidays and have to be scheduled ahead of time. As of Mar. 2, CDCR has expanded its VSA program – Video Scheduling Application – to eight more facilities, so now 27 correctional facilities in total are using this program. Families must file an application/request for a video visit during the designated time window in order to be approved on time, 

CDCR believes suspending in-person visits helps mitigate the spread of the virus. Additionally, state law requires that CDCR must use “all reasonable means” to notify family/close contacts of an incarcerated person in the case of injury, serious illness, or death. However, a loophole in this law is that it does not specify when CDCR must notify these individuals and it does not specify what a serious illness is. 

The Vanguard received letters from an incarcerated individual in Mule Creek State Prison highlighting the poor quarantine and medical conditions at the facility. Particularly, he expressed that when families raise concern and ask CDCR officials about the ongoing situation, CDCR typically responds, “Everyone is being cared for.” However, there is a lack of trust between incarcerated people and staff/administration. Most complaints made by the population are usually contradicted by the administration, therefore leaving families in the dark. 

In another instance, Jennifer Chacon sent multiple emails to prison officials at Kern Valley State Prison asking about her husband’s situation while he was battling the virus. She was not getting the updates she wanted, and a prison official even informed her, “I know it’s hard to understand, but not hearing from the institution, is a good thing.” How can that possibly be a good thing? 

Prison advocates have been fighting for the creation of an emergency notification system when a loved one in prison becomes hospitalized. More than 200 incarcerated people have died from the the virus, and many did not have the proper opportunity to say goodbye to their families. 

Federal law mandates that family/close contacts have to be notified within 24-48 hours of an incarcerated patient’s admission to a hospital and that the patient appoints a surrogate decision-maker. 

In another instance, Sandra Calac’s husband was incarcerated at the RJD Correctional Facility before being hospitalized. However, Calac did not find out her husband had been hospitalized from prison officials, she found out from her husband’s friends in prison. It was not until days later that she was contacted by medical staff about her husband’s critical condition. Two days later he died. 

“The prison should have notified me, but it was his friends that called me and told me he was in the hospital. I couldn’t believe he had gone so fast.”

In response, CDCR claims testing positive for COVID-19 does not meet criteria to notify families, but does give incarcerated people access to phones and mail. But advocates say access becomes limited when in isolation or quarantine, leaving families in fear about their loved ones. 

CDCR Staff

There have been at least 15,834 cases of COVID-19 reported among prison staff. 26 staff members have died while 15,346 have returned to work. 488 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. Texas ranks third. 

California makes up 12.7 percent of total cases among incarcerated people and 8.6 percent of the total deaths in prison.

The state also makes up 15 percent of total cases and 14 percent of total deaths among prison staff.

Division of Juvenile Justice

As of Mar. 5, there are no active cases of COVID-19 among youth at the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facilities. 203 cases have been resolved since the first case was diagnosed in June.



Visitation Information – Visitation Information (ca.gov)



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 www.covidincustody.org for more information.

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