As Vaccination Uptake Increases, CDCR Announces Plans to Ease In-Person Visitation Restrictions


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 May 15, there have been a total of 49,241 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the CDCR system – 22 of them emerged in the last two weeks. 22 cases are active in custody while 610 have been released while active. 

A total of 48,387 confirmed cases have been resolved since the start of the pandemic and 222 individuals have died.

According to Connie Gipson, the Director of Adult Divisions at CDCR, restrictions for in-person visiting will continue to ease with the hopes of having two-hour visits for up to three approved visitors, including minors over the age of two. 

While masking, testing and physical distancing will still be required, protocols for fully vaccinated individuals are currently being modified so that testing will no longer be needed upon visiting. Proof of vaccination will still be required.

Overnight family visiting is set to resume in June 2021 with no age restrictions. Incarcerated individuals will still need to be quarantined and tested following the visit.

“While CDCR’s first priority is to protect the health and safety of those who live and work in our institutions, we recognize that visiting is crucial to maintaining family relationships and community ties. We strive to find a balance between the two and thank you for your patience,” writes Gipson in a memo.

In the past two weeks, North Kern State Prison has tested the most individuals, 53 percent of its population. Deuel Vocational Institution has tested the least, 55 percent of its population.

There are currently 96,495 incarcerated persons in California’s prisons – a reduction of 25,914 since March 2020, when the prison outbreaks first began.


As of May 15, 2,861 patients have received their first round of vaccines statewide. 65,822 are fully vaccinated. 71 percent of the total prison population is either partially or fully vaccinated.

2,787 staff members have received their first round of vaccines statewide. 28,958 staff are fully vaccinated. 48 percent of the total staff population is either partially or fully vaccinated.

Currently, Correctional Training Facility has vaccinated the most incarcerated individuals, 87 percent of its population. Wasco State Prison has tested the least, just 42 percent.

Centinela State Prison has tested the most staff members, 58 percent of its population. High Desert State Prison, on the other hand, has tested the least of its staff population, only 21 percent.

According to a recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, most of the incarcerated individuals who were offered vaccines in the first 10 weeks accepted. However, acceptance was markedly lower among individuals at a lower risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and among non-Hispanic minorities, especially Black residents.

The research states that the finding may “reflect mistrust in correctional authorities and clinicians or a lack of access to reliable information on vaccine safety and efficacy.” 

Still, the findings show that a substantial proportion of the population who had initially declined a first dose later accepted during a second offer. 

“High and equitable vaccination uptake is crucial; attaining it may depend on successful efforts to build trust and vaccine confidence and on regular reoffers to those who decline initially,” the research states.

Effect on Public

On May 1 2021, California announced it would increase the rate at which early-release credits could be earned for 76,000 incarcerated individuals in CDCR. 

Less than two weeks after this announcement, 41 of California’s 58 district attorneys are petitioning against these new early release regulations. The district attorneys challenging the changes cite concerns regarding the lack of transparency and the potential threat to public safety.

The district attorney of Tulare County, Tim Ward, says he signed the petition due to the lack of transparency, “They passed this regulation on Friday afternoon with no fanfare with no public input and they justified doing so on an emergency regulation request.”

Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp also signed the petition, citing similar concerns that Californians, especially crime victims, deserve to have input on this matter. Smittcamp also notes concerns about the effect on the public, “If you take a look at the city, county, and state, you’ll see the effects of releasing those inmates, which is continued crime by the same people who have been released over and over.”  

In a statement, the CDCR press secretary stated that they are reviewing the district attorney’s petition. The statement also noted that Proposition 57, which was approved by California voters in 2016, gave the CDCR, “… the authority to adopt regulations to provide additional opportunities for incarcerated people to receive these Good Conduct Credits.” CDCR says these early release changes made on May 1 followed the approval of emergency regulations by the Office of Administrative Law.

CDCR has 30 days to respond to this request by the California district attorneys who signed the petition to repeal the regulations. If the courts declare the regulations unlawful, then CDCR would have to pass the regulations in a traditional manner that allows for public input.

CDCR Staff

There have been at least 16,441 cases of COVID-19 reported among prison staff. 16,331 individuals have returned to work while 154 cases are still active––a decrease of 17 from last week.

28 staff members have died, most recently at California Institution for Women and from Sacramento County in March and May.

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 530 patients has died from COVID-19. 2 in 3 incarcerated individuals have been fully vaccinated while 3 in 4 have been partially vaccinated. 

California makes up 12.3 percent of total cases among incarcerated people and 8.3 percent of the total deaths in prison.

California also makes up 14.6 percent of total cases and 13.6 percent of total deaths among prison staff.

Division of Juvenile Justice

As of May 15, there is one active case of COVID-19 among youth at the Division of Juvenile Justice facilities. 204 cases have been resolved since the first case was diagnosed in June.

A Year Ago Today

This week last year, California Institution for Men reported its fifth COVID-related death. At the time, the facility had the highest active cases across CDCR over 400; CSP LA County and California Institution for Women trailed with roughly 100 cases each, and more than twenty-seven out of thirty-five institutions were yet to report a case. 

On May 13, 2020, a large-scale testing effort at California Institution for Women revealed a steep increase in positive but mostly asymptomatic cases. CDCR credited the facility for “tak[ing] immediate steps to prevent further spread.” By early July, all but two of the 164 confirmed cases were resolved. 

A few days later, the CDCR announced the resumption of transfers from Reception Centers besides California Institution for Men. Infamously, it was a transfer from California Institution for Men that sparked the deadliest CDCR outbreak to date at San Quentin. Spanning the months of July and August, the outbreak has claimed 28 lives at San Quentin, placing it atop the CDCR in that statistic. Transfers were once again suspended as cases soared from their early-summer lows, plateauing during the fall months but most notably spiking in December.

The earliest Vanguard data— May 19, 2020— showed cumulative confirmed cases to be 862. Today, they stand at 49,243.




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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