By Julietta Bisharyan, Nick Gardner and Alexis Hogan
Davis Vanguard’s weekly highlights from CDCR’s COVID-19 crisis
CDCR Confirmed COVID-19 Cases and Outcomes
As of Apr. 24, there have been a total of 49,217 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the CDCR system – 11 of them emerged in the last two weeks. 11 cases are active in custody while 613 have been released while active. A total of 48,371 confirmed cases have been resolved since the start of the pandemic.
There have been 222 deaths across the CDCR system. The death of an incarcerated person at Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP) on Jan. 26, 2021, has since been determined to be from complications associated with COVID-19.
CDCR officials have withheld their identity, citing medical privacy issues.
In the past two weeks, California Health Care Facility (CHCF) has tested the most individuals, 87 percent of its population. California City Correctional Facility (CAC) has tested the least, just 21 percent of its population.
There are currently 95,564 incarcerated persons in California’s prisons – a reduction of 26,845 since March 2020, when the prison outbreaks first began.
As of Apr. 24, 10,255 patients have received their first round of vaccines statewide. 56,510 are fully vaccinated. 69.7 percent of the total prison population is either partially or fully vaccinated.
1,930 staff members have received their first round of vaccines statewide. 25,899 staff are fully vaccinated. 42.7 percent of the total staff population is either partially or fully vaccinated.
Effect on Public
Following the upcoming closure of the California Correctional Center (CCC), CDCR announced this week that the Sierra Conservation Center (SCC) in Tuolumne County will become the hub of operations for 14 fire camps in Northern California.
CCC is the second CDCR facility expected to close in the coming year; it is projected to close by June 30, 2022. The first facility, Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI) in Tracy, is set to close by Sept. 30 of this year.
California’s overall prison population was about 144,000 in 2011 and had decreased to about 120,000 just before the pandemic. The decline in the state’s prison population can be partially attributed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in 2011, which stated that overcrowding in California’s prison system was unconstitutional and ordered the state to reduce the population.
As of this week, the overall population across CDCR has dropped to about 95,000 due to actions associated with the pandemic— such as suspension of intake from county jails and early-releases.
According to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) report from Feb. 2021, three additional prisons could be closed by 2024-25; these findings were based on CDCR’s projections of the declining population. These closures would result in combined savings about $1.5 billion per year.
There are over 55,000 employees across the 35 state prisons in California; CDCR had a budget of about $13.5 billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year.
Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) is an advocate group for closing prisons and shifting spending on policing and corrections to human services. Since all incarcerated people would be transferred to other prisons rather than being released per the closure decisions, CURB argues that while closures are positive decisions, they are not enough.
“Prison closures must center releases of individuals, not rely on transfers to other prisons,” CURB said in a statement. “Californians have been voting and advocating for a shift in our approach to public safety, demanding less reliance on prisons and police.”
Other advocates have criticized the lack of community involvement in choosing the two prisons that are currently on course to close because the prisons act as a major employer for the communities in which they are located.
Staci Heaton, the VP of governmental affairs for the Rural County Representatives of California, said that Lassen County was given only an hour’s notice before CDCR made the announcement of CCC’s closure. Heaton pointed out that out of the county’s total labor force of about 8,800 people, more than 1,000 are employed by CCC. Heaton emphasized the need for an economic development plan to replace the jobs.
CCC was not included in the four facilities recommended for closure by LAO in a report from Feb. 2021. Those recommended facilities included the California Rehabilitation Center, the California Men’s Colony, San Quentin State Prison, and the Correctional Training Facility, due to estimations of high repair and/or operational costs.
The two facilities announced for closure, CCC and DVI, were listed in last year’s LAO report of the state’s 12 oldest prisons that had more than $11 billion in combined deferred maintenance costs. SCC was also on the list, with about $504 million in needed repairs. CCC was just above SCC, with about $531 million in needed repairs.
A spokesman for SCC, Correctional Lt. Ricardo Jauregi, said they have not heard anything about the prison being considered for closure soon, and that such decisions were out of their control.
Regarding the announcement of SCC overseeing the Northern California fire camps, Jauregi said it is not expected to negatively impact the fire camps program.
Jauregi also mentioned that taking over the camps from CCC will not replace the loss of Baseline Conservation Camp, the Tuolumne County training camp that closed last year. Camps in Calaveras and Mariposa county remain the closest camps to provide crews in Tuolumne County for emergencies such as fires or floods.
There have been at least 16,323 cases of COVID-19 reported among prison staff. 26 staff members have died while 16,137 have returned to work. 186 cases are still active––an increase of 20 from last week.
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.
2 in 5 incarcerated individuals have tested positive –– 4.4 times the rate in California overall. 1 in 532 patients has died from COVID-19. 1 in 2 incarcerated individuals have been fully vaccinated while 3 in 4 have been partially vaccinated.
California makes up 12.4 percent of total cases among incarcerated people and 8.6 percent of the total deaths in prison.
California also makes up 14.7 percent of total cases and 13 percent of total deaths among prison staff.
Division of Juvenile Justice
As of Apr. 24, 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
A year ago this week, the CDCR announced an extension to its restriction on intake from county jails. The stated deadline— May 25, 2020— has since been pushed back multiple times, and intake only resumed in limited quantities at certain institutions in Nov. 2020 and Feb. 2021.
On April 23, 2020, the California Institution for Men (CIM) designated certain units as temporary housing for physical distancing purposes. Temporary housing has been a staple of CDCR mitigation efforts, but certain methods have attracted criticism, such as Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) and San Quentin State Prison’s (SQ) use of solitary confinement cells as quarantine units. Conditions aside, these cells are known to elicit psychological trauma in certain residents.
On April 19, 2020, the first statewide COVID-related death of an incarcerated person was reported at CIM. As of April 23, 2021, 222 deaths have been reported throughout the CDCR, and CIM’s total stands at 27, the second highest behind San Quentin’s 28.
On April 22, 2020, CDCR suspended transfers out of Reception Centers, which receive incarcerated persons out of county jails and assign them a score used to determine future placement in a state prison. This activity has since resumed.