Civil rights attorney: Gov. Newsom needs to act immediately before COVID-19 overtakes prisons

California Connection
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Gov. Gavin Newsom is deciding whether the state should release some inmates early to ease coronavirus pressures off California’s prison system.

It comes as five corrections workers and an inmate recently tested positive for the virus. 

As the novel coronavirus continues its spread throughout California, state prisons are having a tougher time social distancing, isolating and taking other precautions the rest of the population is demanded to do.

"We don't want the pandemic to break out inside of the prisons," said civil rights attorney Michael Bien.

Bien is part of a prison pandemic task force, which has been meeting every day. He said the governor needs to act immediately to ease crowding in California prisons by releasing some inmates.

"Some of the obvious places to start are using the medical parole process, which is already in place. Looking at the people who are in hospice, who are in the medical world, who have applied for compassionate release because they're very vulnerable. If they catch the virus, they're going to require hospitalization almost immediately," he said.

As California braces for a surge of COVID-19 patients, Newsom made it clear violent inmates will not be released but said he will carefully consider other options.

"I won't use a crisis as an excuse to create another crisis,” the governor said. “If we start to release prisoners that are not prepared with their parole plans, they may end up out on the street and sidewalks, in a homeless shelter. If we don't get them back on their feet, they may end up in the emergency rooms, clogging the system that we are trying to address in the first place."

Officials for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation say they continue to develop measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including deep cleaning and verbal screening of anyone entering facilities.

Officials say executives and staff are working with infectious disease control experts to prepare for a scenario where the coronavirus could significantly affect operations.

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