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Court: San Quentin Prison Population Must Be Halved

Prison had one of nation's worst COVID outbreaks
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 22, 2020 3:49 AM CDT

(Newser) – A California appeals court has ordered state corrections officials to cut the population of one of the world's most famous prisons to less than half of its designed capacity, citing officials' "deliberate indifference" to the plight of inmates during the coronavirus pandemic. State officials said Wednesday that they are deciding whether to appeal the order, which otherwise will force them to parole or transfer about 1,100 inmates serving time in San Quentin State Prison north of San Francisco, the AP reports. California's oldest prison, home to its death row, was the site of one of the nation's worst coronavirus outbreaks, with 28 inmate deaths and 2,200 infections at its peak—about 75% of the inmate population. Nearly 300 employees were sickened and one died, though all but nine employees are now back to work.

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It was “the worst epidemiological disaster in California correctional history," the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco said in Tuesday's ruling. The three-justice court said officials' decision not to cut the inmate population by half, as recommended by prison officials' outside advisors in June, was "morally indefensible and constitutionally untenable." Assemblyman Marc Levine, a Democrat who represents the area, on Wednesday 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." However, there is only one current active coronavirus case at San Quentin, and two other California prisons now top it for both active cases and cumulative number of infections.

(Read more San Quentin stories.)

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