Court Orders San Quentin Prison Population Cut in Half

A California court ordered state corrections officials to cut the population of San Quentin Prison, the state’s oldest, to less than half of its designed capacity, citing officials’ “deliberate indifference” to the plight of prisoners during the coronavirus pandemic, The Guardian reports. State prison officials were deciding whether to appeal the order, which would force them to parole or transfer about 1,100 inmates. San Quentin was the site of one of the nation’s worst coronavirus outbreaks. At least 28 inmates have died of the virus, and 2,200 or about 75 percent of the prison population were infected at the peak of the outbreak. Nearly 300 employees were sickened and one died. The outbreak at the facility was “the worst epidemiological disaster in California correctional history, said the First District Court of Appeal.

Assemblyman Marc Levine, who represents the area, said that without a further significant reduction, “it is not a question of if another COVID-19 spike will happen at San Quentin, it is a question of when.”  There is only one current active coronavirus case at San Quentin. Two other California prisons now top it. Avenal prison in the Central Valley saw a resurgence of infections in September after cases dropped in July. Folsom prison near Sacramento didn’t report a positive case until August, but within weeks cases reached a peak of more than 600 infections. San Quentin’s outbreak flared when officials botched the transfer of prisoners from a southern California prison in May. Cases exploded, driven by “the unique architecture and age” of the prison that opened in 1852. Its “exceedingly poor ventilation, extraordinarily close living quarters and inadequate sanitation” were cited by experts at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health and the University of California, San Francisco. The state has released 21,000 inmates. San Quentin’s population was trimmed to the current roughly 2,900 inmates.