Explore latest data and updates on COVID in California’s prison system

This report is written by the Covid In-Custody Project which partners with the Davis Vanguard to bring reporting on the pandemic in California’s county jails and Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to the public eye. Refer to our website to view and download the raw data.

As of August 2022, our data reports have been halted. New updates coming soon.

By Claire Beckwith & Aparna Komarla

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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    1. Bill Marshall

      Yes… and nursing homes and convelescent places are doing great in culling the herd… and as long as they are cremated quickly, makes it safer for all of the rest of us!

      Very Republican, ‘conservative’ of you… to recommend ‘herd immunity’…

      Now if we just stopped staffing those facilities, to prevent community spread, “we’d get ‘er done!”

      Same for Correctional facilities… pull staff out, let nature take its course…


  1. Robert Canning

    This is a misleading headline. Here is the definition of design capacity:

    Design capacity is the number of inmates a prison can house based on one inmate per cell, single-level bunks in dormitories, and no beds in places not designed for housing.

    This was the definition the Supreme Court used in its 2011 order reducing the system’s population. It is based on one inmate per cell. The courts and most experts recognize that this is not how prisons are run – double-celling is the rule rather than the exception. The court ordered that the department reduce its population to 137.5% of capacity, which it did in 2017 or so. In January 2020 the system was at 134% of capacity (see https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/research/wp-content/uploads/sites/174/2020/02/Tpop1d2001.pdf) and would have stayed about that level but for COVID-19.

    As far as I know, “design capacity” is not a big issue. What’s more important is the disease. Getting the population down to a level where the disease can be safely managed and the inmates protected is the top priority. The population of the 35 prisons has been below 100,000 for over a month.

    Using the term “design capacity” to somehow criticize CDCR is misleading and does not really address the issue – COVID. The actual number of inmates housed is the real issue, not design capacity.

    1. Aparna Komarla

      Hi Robert,

      Thank you for the feedback.

      I understand that despite the population being over capacity, it is significantly lesser than its previous size. However, I do not think that design capacity and acceptable population sizes during COVID-19 are mutually exclusive measurements. The definition you provided on design capacity is close to an ideal environment in prisons and jails to handle COVID-19, which would resemble the result of population growth control.

      If I understand your comment correctly, you are suggesting that aiming to bring populations below design capacity and reducing populations regardless of capacity are somehow different. Can you clarify where the distinction lies?

      From the Habeas case against San Quentin (https://law.justia.com/cases/california/court-of-appeal/2020/a160122.html):

      “We therefore recommend that the prison population at San Quentin be reduced to 50% of current capacity (even further reduction would be more beneficial) via decarceration; this will allow every cell in North and West Blocks to be single-room occupancy.”

      They reference design capacity and not population size initially, but later use the terms interchangeably. It possibly implies that the outcomes are close enough and do not need to be distinguished.

      I’d appreciate your thoughts and thank you once again for sharing feedback.


  2. Ron Glick

    I was sad to hear that Phil Spector died of Covid-19 while serving his time for murder. Despite the seriousness of his crime he produced of the  some great records of my youth.

  3. heidykellison

    The low staff percentage is problematic. People serving the public should be vaccinated, especially those serving vulnerable populations. Why is the number so low?

  4. Olivia Campbell

    And what a difference a couple of days make. Active cases among the incarcerated population jumped from over 39000 on Friday to almost 5300 this morning. WSP and NKSP, which both had over 600 cases on Friday now have over 800 and over 700, respectively. Intake has now been suspended at both these reception centers… too little, too late. The overall vaccination rate for staff is a pathetic 70%. But can we talk specifically about CMF and CHCF? 100% of staff at these prisons are subject to the only vaccine mandate that managed to survive CCPOA’s campaign against the health and safety of the incarcerated–the Aug. 19 state public health order requiring prison staff who work in healthcare settings to have been vaccinated by Oct. 14. The order has now been updated to require them to be boosted by Feb. 1. Yet only 81% of staff at CMF and 85% at CHCF are fully vaccinated. The compliance rate is especially low among contracted staff–37% at CMF and 61% at CHCF. Contractors make up a significant percentage of overall staff at both these prisons, and many are medical personnel who have contact with some of the oldest, most disabled, and most medically vulnerable incarcerated people in the entire prison system. CMF has 62 positive cases among the incarcerated population, and CHCF has 67. These numbers are low compared with other prisons, but the people at these facilities are also more at risk of infection, complications, and death than anyone else in the state. This flagrant violation of a state public health order, along with the total lack of safety precautions and deliberate acts of recklessness by staff (at least at CMF), will lead to conditions as horrific as those of last year’s outbreak if not dealt with immediately. Yet I have spent four weeks reaching out to local, state, and federal entities, media, legislators, researchers, and advocacy organizations (in short, everyone who gets PAID to investigate these matters and hold wrongdoers accountable) and have gotten mostly crickets in return. What happened to all the rallies, the strategy sessions, the zaps, the oversight hearings, the lawsuits, the inside organizing? We in the activist world love to toss around the declaration that enough is enough, but here we are–246 lost lives later. So we either need a renewed and reinvigorated approach, or we need a new threshold for the amount of suffering and death that equals “enough”.

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