Families of San Quentin inmates hope prisoner release order keeps other inmates healthy

California Connection

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Up to 8,000 inmates across California may be released early as part of a plan to limit the spread of COVID-19 in state prisons.

More than 6,000 inmates have already tested positive for the illness.

Shawanda Scott told FOX40 that her days are now consumed with worry after her 35-year-old son, Carrington Ruselle, tested positive for COVID-19.

“I want to hug him, I want to hold him, I want to kiss his face. I want to tell him everything is going to be OK,” said Scott

Russelle is one of roughly 1400 inmates serving time at San Quentin State Prison who has the virus.

“They’re not safe in there. They’re not being fed properly. They’re not social distancing. They cannot,” said Scott. 

So, she said she was relieved to hear Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order Friday to speed up the release of as many as 8,000 inmates, freeing some by the end of August.

Inmates with 180 days or less on their sentence will be eligible first.

Only those who have committed non-violent crimes, as defined by the state, qualify.

Anyone required to register as a sex offender or found guilty of domestic violence is not eligible.

But Nina Salarno Besselman with the advocacy group, Crime Victims United, told FOX40 she’s worried these early releases will put the safety of the general public at risk.

“You’re going to be creating a crime wave and a lot of innocent people are going to be hurt,” explained Besselman.

She said she believes the state’s definition of violent crimes is too narrow and that dangerous offenders may still be let out.

“Elder abuse, certain sexual offenses, all these really horrible crimes are no longer considered serious and violent and that’s who’s being released,” said Besselman.

She said if the state wants to prevent outbreaks, they should instead focus on making prisons more sanitary.

Scott’s son does not qualify for early release, but she’s hoping reducing the jail population will help protect those still behind bars.

“When given the opportunity to pay for the crime, it should not be a death sentence,” explained Scott.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said it is still screening prisoners for eligibility.

Those with a year or less left on their sentences will be considered.

The department has already released roughly 10,000 inmates since the pandemic began.

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