8 Weekly Highlights from CDCR’s COVID Crisis: 44 DAs File Lawsuit Against CDCR For Good Conduct Credit Expansion

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By Julietta Bisharyan, Nick Gardner and Alexis Hogan

CDCR Confirmed COVID-19 Cases and Outcomes

As of Jun. 5, there have been a total of 49,336 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the CDCR system – 105 of them emerged in the last two weeks. 107 cases are active in custody while 607 have been released while active. 

A total of 48,398 confirmed cases have been resolved since the start of the pandemic, and 224 individuals have died.

In the past two weeks, California State Prison Solano (SOL) has tested the most individuals, 62 percent of its population. Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI) has tested the least, 53 percent of its population.

There are currently 97,364 incarcerated persons in California’s prisons – a reduction of 25,045 since March 2020, when the prison outbreaks first began.

Vaccinations

As of Jun. 5, 2,313 patients have received their first round of vaccines statewide. 68,031 are fully vaccinated. 72 percent of the total prison population is either partially or fully vaccinated.

2,346 staff members have received their first round of vaccines statewide. 31,280 staff are fully vaccinated. 51 percent of the total staff population is either partially or fully vaccinated.

Currently, Correctional Training Facility (CTF) has vaccinated the most incarcerated individuals, 88 percent of its population. NKSP has vaccinated the least, just 46 percent.

Centinela State Prison (CEN) has tested the most staff members, 61 percent of its population. High Desert State Prison (HDSP), on the other hand, has vaccinated the least of its staff population, only 23 percent.

According to a survey conducted at San Quentin, published in the Prison Journalism Project, more than 20 percent of incarcerated people surveyed in February said they would not take a COVID-19 vaccination or were undecided.

Effect On Public

44 district attorneys throughout California have filed a lawsuit against CDCR. This lawsuit follows the district attorneys’ petition against the new regulations that expand Good Conduct Credits for incarcerated people, allowing about 76,000 individuals to be eligible for early release. Under these new regulations, one can earn more credits for good behavior or through participating in programs in prison. These new regulations became effective May 1, 2021. 

In a statement from the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s website stated that, “This lawsuit requests the Superior Court to declare the regulations unlawful and to prohibit CDCR from awarding these additional credits until CDCR lawfully complies with the regulatory scheme, which would include a transparent and rigorous public comment period.” 

Dan Dow, District Attorney for San Luis Obispo County, voiced objections to the CDCR’s emergency implementation of these new regulations, “They did it without open public hearings and comments as an emergency regulation under a special section of the law that says if you have an emergency, you can do these things quickly.”

The district attorneys that filed the lawsuit contend that there was no emergency that would allow for these new regulations.

Joyce Dudley, District Attorney for Santa Barbara County, noted concerns about the new regulations, “My biggest concern was that crime victims who thought the person who perpetrated the crime was still going to be in custody and suddenly they’d see them walking down the street.”

Sanford Horowitz, a criminal defense lawyer in Santa Barbara, is supportive of these new regulations, “The whole goal is designed to enable them to have skills to get a job when they get out. I think it would overall be beneficial for the community.”

Horowitz also added, “It’s another opportunity to get back to life, to get back to their families, to get back to society, to rebuild the lives that they left because they were incarcerated.”

Patricia Wenskunas, the CEO of Crime Survivors, Inc., a victim’s rights group, said that she worries about what will happen after people leave prison, “You know they can’t afford housing, they can’t afford different programs and services. Are they going to be rehabilitated through these extra credits so they’re not going to go on and revictimize anybody else?’

The CDCR website explains the function of credit earning, “CDCR incentivizes incarcerated people to take responsibility for their own rehabilitation; promotes public safety by encouraging people to pursue educational, vocational, and self-improvement activities; and reduces recidivism by increasing the likelihood that people will successfully transition back into our communities after incarceration.”

As the new regulations took effect on May 1, the CDCR Press Secretary Dana Simas told CNN that “CDCR will submit permanent regulations for review, to include a public hearing and opportunity for public comment.”

Regarding the Good Conduct Credit changes that expanded credit earning effective May 1, the department stated that, “Earning additional credits can move up parole consideration of people convicted of nonviolent crimes who have served the full-term of the sentence for their primary offense, and who demonstrate that their release to the community would not pose an unreasonable risk of violence to the community.”

CDCR’s website states that the rate of GCC earned for individuals serving time for violent offenses will increase from 20 percent to 33.3 percent (1 day of credit for every 2 days served). The rate of GCC earned for individuals serving time for nonviolent second and third strikers will increase from 33.3 percent to 50 percent (1 day of credit for every 1 day served).

Good Conduct Credits are not the only credits incarcerated people can earn. The department states that they can also earn Milestone Completion Credits (MCC) for successful completion of approved programs; Rehabilitative Achievement Credits (RAC) can be earned for completion of self-help and public service activities; Educational Merit Credits (EMC) for completion of approved academic programs; and Extraordinary Conduct Credits (ECC) for performing heroic acts or providing assistance in maintain safety and security.

Effective May 1, the department’s policy now states that “all credits may be forfeited due to a credit loss in excess of available GCC (i.e. someone who receives a rules violation and does not have GCC equal or greater to the amount lost may also lose ECC or EMC).” The department explains that these lost credits may be restored for some rules violations in the amount of 90 days or less. “Allowing credits to not be permanently lost further incentivizes good behavior by allowing individuals a way out of “credit debt” by participating in approved rehabilitative and educational programs,” the CDCR website says.

Earlier this week, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he has granted 14 pardons, 13 commutations, and 8 medical reprieves. He also signed an executive order for an independent investigation of the case of the incarcerated individual on death row, Kevin Cooper, to evaluate Cooper’s application for clemency.

The investigation includes reviewing the trial and appellate records, as well as reviewing the facts and evidence underlying the conviction. This process will include the results of the recent DNA tests that were ordered by Gov. Newsom in order to examine evidence using the most scientifically reliable forensic testing.

The state’s constitution gives the Governor the ability to grant executive clemency in the form of a pardon, commutation, or reprieve. A pardon may remove barriers to employment and public service, restore rights, and prevent unjust collateral consequences of conviction (e.g., deportation or family separation). A commutation modifies a sentence to make an individual eligible for earlier release. A reprieve allows individuals with high medical risk to serve their sentences in appropriate alternative placements in the community.

The Office of Governor Gavin Newsom states that, “The Governor regards clemency as an important part of the criminal justice system that can incentivize accountability and rehabilitation, increase public safety by removing counterproductive barriers to successful reentry, correct unjust results in the legal system and address the health needs of incarcerated people with high medical risks.”

San Quentin

The case against San Quentin continued this week in Marin County Superior Court. It is a conglomeration of over 300 individual habeas corpus filings joined under four petitioners and will determine the degree of responsibility that both San Quentin and CDCR officials share for multiple coronavirus outbreaks that have killed 29 to date.

Habeas corpus filings have been mounting against San Quentin since last summer’s transfer-induced outbreak swept through the prison, claiming 26 lives. The filings, grounded in the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment, will benefit from recent legal precedent— in October, a judge sided with San Quentin petitioner Ivan von Staich in an appeal on identical grounds.

The judge in von Staich’s case issued an affirmative ruling, notoriously dubbing San Quentin’s response to the pandemic “the worst epidemiological disaster in state history.”

The petitioner’s are taking to court in hopes of holding prison officials accountable and seeing an improvement to living conditions within San Quentin.

“This is an opportunity to raise awareness of the CDCR’s utter failure to enact policies and protocols that prioritize the health and safety of incarcerated people,” said Jennifer Huber, a partner at the law firm Keker, Van Nest, and Peters LLP that is representing the petitioners. “This horrific outbreak and the resulting deaths were preventable. We hope to hold the CDCR accountable for their actions and to highlight the need to reduce overcrowding in our prison system and ensure that incarcerated individuals are treated with the respect and dignity due to them as human beings.” 

The case will continue virtually via publicly accessible Zoom. Marin County Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Howard is presiding. 

This article contains information from the San Francisco Bay View. For more, visit https://sfbayview.com/2021/05/san-quentin-on-trial-for-29-covid-19-deaths-under-its-watch/

CDCR Staff

There have been at least 16,815 cases of COVID-19 reported among prison staff. 16,611 have returned to work while 204 cases are still active––an increase of 38 from last week.

28 staff members have died.

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 ranks third for the highest number of deaths nationwide. Texas ranks first with Federal prisons in second.

2 in 5 incarcerated individuals have tested positive –– 4.4 times the rate in California overall. 1 in 525 patients has died from COVID-19. 3 in 4 incarcerated individuals have been fully or partially vaccinated.

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

California also makes up 14.7 percent of total cases and 13.5 percent of total deaths among prison staff.

Division of Juvenile Justice

As of Jun. 5, there is no active case of COVID-19 among youth at the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facilities. 205 cases have been resolved since the first case was diagnosed in June.

A Year Ago Today

Last year, on Jun. 5, 2020, there were a total of 2,989 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across CDCR. There was a 25 percent increase from the previous week.

At that time, California had 127,034 cases within the state. As of today, California has had a total of 3.66 million cases.

A year ago this week, the 11th and 12th incarcerated person from California Institution for Men (CIM) died after testing positive for COVID-19. A Plant Operations employee at Ironwood State Prison also died from complications related to the coronavirus. 

That week, CCHCS announced that it had received 20,000 COVID-19 test kits from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services last week and an additional 20,000 this week.

References

https://www.gov.ca.gov/2021/05/28/governor-newsom-announces-clemency-actions-signs-executive-order-for-independent-investigation-of-kevin-cooper-case/

https://newsnationusa.com/news/usanews/californias-corrections-system-may-provide-earlier-release-or-parole-hearings-for-some-inmates/

https://www.ksby.com/news/local-news/cdcr-grants-prisoners-more-credits-ca-district-attorneys-fight-back

https://sfbayview.com/2021/05/san-quentin-on-trial-for-29-covid-19-deaths-under-its-watch/

https://prisonjournalismproject.org/pjp-stories/san-quentin-prisoners-speak-out-on-vaccinations

 

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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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