To date, 53 inmates have died due to COVID-19 statewide
By Vicki Gonzalez
SACRAMENTO, Calif. —
Loved ones of those incarcerated held multiple protests in Sacramento as the state works to reduce the growing number of COVID-19 cases at prisons.
To date, 53 inmates have died from COVID-19 while in custody—according to state tracking data.
There have been more than 9,000 inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Currently, the state is reporting more than 1,000 active cases.
There are currently more than 1,200 state employee COVID-19 cases at prisons statewide.
One of the most recent spikes is at Folsom State Prison which reported 109 active COVID-19 cases and the death of a state prison employee this week.
“The only ones who are surprised about what is going on is no one who has been incarcerated before,” said Steven Green who was formerly incarcerated. “There is no place to give physical distancing. Plus, the culture inside between the cops and those who are incarcerated is not good. It’s either been adversarial or ‘we don’t care about you; we only care about us.’”
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in response to Folsom State Prison it nearly tripled its quarantine tent capacity to 140 inmates this week and plans to increase that capacity to a total of 230 inmates by this weekend.
In a statement, CDCR said it also sent thousands of additional items of personal protective equipment, including masks, face shields and gowns—and is conducting rapid response and laboratory testing.
But loved ones argue the only way for an inmate to contract COVID-19 is for the virus to come from outside. As a result, they place all responsibility on the state.
“Now we have a pandemic within a pandemic. It’s a death sentence,” Belinda Morales said. “There is too many of them in there going through the same thing. These families that are here. They are going through the same thing. There has to be some preventions. The governor has to open his eyes.”
Morales’ fiancé, Marcos Trevino, died of COVID-19 while in custody.
“They don’t know if it was June 2 or June 3,” Morales said. “He said ‘they are putting me in quarantine. I’ve got a little fever. I’m going to be here for 14 days and I’ll call you when I get out.’ I never got that call.”
Other family members are frustrated they can’t easily contact their loved ones during the pandemic.
“He’s actually not telling me anything. Because he can’t have phone calls,” Joanne Scheer said.
Scheer’s 33-year-old son, Anthony Vigeant, is currently at Mule Creek State Prison in Amador County.
“I am very concerned,” she said. “And he was very concerned about just being able to stay away from whomever is sick. And now he is in a COVID quarantine building. I don’t know if it’s him that’s sick. And I won’t be able to know.”
In response to the risk of COVID-19, the state has been granting expedited releases to non-violent inmates with less than a year left in their sentence.
In order to be eligible, inmates must meet the following criteria:
- Have 365 days or less to serve on their sentence
- Are not currently serving time for domestic violence or a violent crime as defined by law
- Have no current or prior sentences that require them to register as a sex offender
- Not have an assessment indicating a high risk for violence
- Individuals who are 30 and over and who meet the eligibility criteria are immediately eligible for release.
- Those who meet these criteria and are age 29 or under will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis for release.
When released, CDCR said the following resources are provided:
- Being referred to the Division of Adult Parole, county probation
- Given personal protective equipment
- Transportation is offered
- Provided COVID-19 education
- Eligible for temporary, emergency housing for those without other options
The department estimates by the end of August roughly 8,000 inmates over the past five months– with a current prison population of nearly 100,000 statewide.