Marin County Superior Court Hears Testimonies From San Quentin Residents on COVID Horrors


By Julietta Bisharyan and Alexis Hogan

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

CDCR Confirmed COVID-19 Cases and Outcomes

As of May 29, there have been a total of 49,263 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the CDCR system – 36 of them emerged in the last two weeks. 37 cases are active in custody while 607 have been released while active. 

A total of 48,395 confirmed cases have been resolved since the start of the pandemic, and 224 individuals have died.

In the past two weeks, North Kern State Prison (NKSP) has tested the most individuals, 56 percent of its population. Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI) has tested the least, 53 percent of its population.

There are currently 97,179 incarcerated persons in California’s prisons – a reduction of 25,230 since March 2020, when the prison outbreaks first began.


As of May 29, 2,469 patients have received their first round of vaccines statewide. 67,329 are fully vaccinated. 71 percent of the total prison population is either partially or fully vaccinated.

2,437 staff members have received their first round of vaccines statewide. 30,846 staff are fully vaccinated. 50 percent of the total staff population is either partially or fully vaccinated.

Currently, Correctional Training Facility (CTF) has vaccinated the most incarcerated individuals, 87 percent of its population. NKSP has vaccinated the least, just 45 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.

Updates from Plata v. Newsom 


COVID-19 cases across CDCR have significantly decreased as a result of half the population having previously been infected, a relatively high vaccination rate among residents and relatively low community transmission rates in most of California.

Vaccine refusal rate among CDCR population in the last approximately 30 days dropped slightly from approximately 30 to 27 percent. Two of Salinas Valley State Prison’s four main yards have relatively high refusal rates. As a result, California Correctional Healthcare Services (CCHCS) is planning an outreach event.

CCHCS reports that 43 fully vaccinated patients have tested positive. 2 of those had been hospitalized due to COVID-related conditions.

Population Reduction

CDCR’s population continues to slowly increase. During the first full week of May, nearly 1,000 people were received in the CDCR Reception Centers.

Since July 2020, 9,013 people have been released early.

Credit Earning

Effective May 1, CDCR passed new credit-earning regulations, including an increase in the rate at which people serving sentences for violent crimes earn credits for good conduct from 20  to 33.3 percent and a change in disciplinary practices that previously implemented zero-credit-earning days in response to a rules violation. 

Quarantine and Isolation

Quarantine space in CDCR is now used primarily for those who have transferred into or within the prison. During the week of May 17, CCHCS reports approximately 650 people were in quarantine due to exposure.

Resumption of Services

Prisons have or soon will enter the least restrictive phase of CDCR’s and CCHCS’s “RoadMap to Reopening.” CCHCS has turned more attention to the necessary task of ramping up medical services that have been limited for months and says it has directed prisons to focus on the highest priority overdue services, and then those for patients who have been waiting the longest.

Mask-wearing and physical distancing remain in place, with the exception that incarcerated people, staff and visitors, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated, are no longer required to wear masks outdoors as long as they maintain at least six feet of physical distance from all other people.

San Quentin

On May 19, testimony began in the evidentiary hearing for the Marin County Superior Court case against San Quentin State and the CDCR regarding their misconduct in the transfer of incarcerated people from California Institution for Men (CIM) to San Quentin in May 2020.

This mishandled transfer resulted in a massive and deadly COVID-19 outbreak among the incarcerated population, as well as the staff at San Quentin— 28 incarcerated people died, the most deaths reported at any CDCR facility.

The previous decision by the Court of Appeals found that the conditions at San Quentin were in violation of the Eighth Amendment, however, the state appealed this decision; the case was sent back to the Marin County Superior Court to hold an evidentiary hearing. The Court of Appeals stated that the evidentiary hearing addresses “the efficacy of the measures officials have already taken to abate the risk of serious harm to petitioner and other prisoners, as well as the appropriate health and safety measures they should take in light of present conditions.” Accordingly, several incarcerated people and staff from the San Quentin prison gave their testimonies last week. 

Below are some highlights from the testimonies from last week: 


One of the transferees from CIM, John Mattox, testified that before the transfer to San Quentin, he knew people who were infected with COVID-19, including his friend. However, the staff failed to adequately respond n time. Mattox recalled feeling sick and notifying the prison guards and medical staff, but they ignored him and told him he would be transferred soon. Mattox described the conditions before the transfer in which he was put in a “small holding tank with no ventilation” with 23 other individuals, several of which he observed as showing symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Mattox testified that there was no social distancing on the 11 hour bus ride during the transfer. Two days after Mattox arrived at San Quentin, he was finally tested, but he did not receive the results until four to five days after. Mattox also noted the unsanitary conditions of the isolation cell he was placed in shortly after being tested— he mentioned the apparent disregard and carelessness of the prison staff in maintaining cleanliness. 

Dr. Grant, a medical doctor at San Quentin for over 15 years, was concerned that the transfer would put his patients in danger. He testified that the medical staff were given a two-day notice regarding the transfer from CIM to San Quentin. He shared his concerns with staff and officials, making it clear that he believed the transfer to be a bad idea. However, his concerns were ignored and he was told that the decision was already made. 


One witness gave an emotional testimony in which he explained that when the medical staff came by, his friend was not responding, and the witness began to yell to alert the staff that his friend was not breathing. When the staff returned with more medical support, they dragged out his friend by his feet and did CPR for nearly an hour. “It felt like trash…they treated him like cattle…they didn’t treat him like a human,” the witness stated.


The Chief Medical Executive for San Quentin, Dr. Pachynski, testified that the time between an incarcerated individual was tested for COVID-19, and receiving their results could be alarmingly long— the results could take five to six days to be received by a San Quentin physician, due to widespread limited testing capacity in the summer.

A researcher at UC Berkeley, Fyodor Urnov, offered the prison rapid COVID-19 testing, which would have allowed physicians to receive the test results within 36 hours. However, prison administrators declined this offer.


There were no inquiries made regarding whether the incarcerated people who were being transferred from CIM to San Quentin had been tested for COVID-19 recently— the most recent tests before the transfer occurred about three to four weeks prior. Additionally, no one had inquired about the manner of social distancing that was utilized among the incarcerated people during the transfer.


Before the transfer was initiated, the staff believed that the incoming incarcerated people would be quarantined at the Adjustment Center at San Quentin, which is a separate building with solid doors. Warden Bloomfield explained that solid doors are necessary to maintain isolation as doors with bars could allow the virus to travel between cells.

This building could only hold up to 100 people safely, which was too small to house the incoming incarcerated people from CIM. San Quentin officials made a last-minute decision to use the Adjustment Center to house only those incarcerated individuals who were symptomatic, while the rest of the incoming incarcerated individuals were held in the units in the main facility. The plan was to have individuals quarantine in their units for 14 days, and then be released to the main prison population. However, the warden said this did not happen.

On the day of the transfer, there were two individuals determined to be showing symptoms of COVID-19, and they were sent to quarantine in isolation at the Adjustment Center— the rest of the transferred individuals went to the units in the main facility.


An incarcerated individual at San Quentin, Michael Burroughs, works as the main chef at the prison. He testified that in June of last year he reported feeling sick, however, he was ordered by staff to continue working in the kitchen, handling food while infected, until July. Burroughs, when asked if he had the right to refuse to work in the kitchen, responded that he did not have the right to refuse, and if he did, he would be penalized and written up for a rules violation.

CDCR Staff

There have been at least 16,770 cases of COVID-19 reported among prison staff. 16,694 have returned to work while 166 cases are still active––an increase of 32 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. 

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 14.6 percent of total cases and 13.6 percent of total deaths among prison staff.

Division of Juvenile Justice

As of May 29, there is one active case 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

Last year, on May 29, 2020, there were a total of 2,377 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across CDCR. There was a 375 percent increase from the previous week.

At that time, California had 107,723 cases within the state. As of today, California has had a total of 3.66 million cases.

A year ago this week, the 10th incarcerated person from CIM and a California Rehabilitation Center Correctional Officer died after testing positive for COVID-19.

On May 26, 2020, intake resumed for youth at the DJJ. Mandatory staff testing for COVID-19 also began at CIM and Avenal State Prison (ASP). 

That week, CDCR/CCHCS identified nearly 700 individuals in dorm housing at CIM at potentially high risk for COVID-19 complications. Those individuals were reportedly relocated to other institutions in the state in small cohorts.




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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