SAN RAFAEL (KPIX) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that roughly 8,000 prisoners will be released to try to contain the COVID-19 outbreak at state prisons.
Those who have been advocating for early release of certain inmates say this is a step in the right direction but only a hundred or so are expected to be released from San Quentin, where more than 1,600 inmates have been infected with coronavirus.
Jacques Verduin, the founder of GRIP — Guiding Rage Into Power — helps inmates transition to life on the outside. Over the past eight years, GRIP has graduated 913 with 321 of them being released. Only one has returned to prison.
So far, not one GRIP graduate has been granted early release. The governor’s plan does specify low-level offenders with 180 days or less remaining in their sentences and those who are at risk of COVID-19-related complications.
“We are evaluating every prisoner for release that they are on a pathway to rehabilitation that they are non violent, non-sex-offenders, non-serious-offender that have a place to go,” said assemblyman Marc Levine.
Levine, whose district includes Marin County, feels it took too long for the governor to take action, especially at San Quentin.
“I asked for this in April, it’s something that must be done,” Levine added.
Those who have connections to inmates serving at San Quentin agree. Many describe dire conditions with inadequate medical care.
“One of my dearest friends — a mentor of mine — is in a ventilator right now,” said James King, a former San Quentin inmate.
Some of the inmates may already have had the virus at the time of their release and will be quarantined.
While that raises concern for community spread, state lawmakers say an outbreak can’t be contained within prison walls.
State senator Scott Weiner said “Our prisons are not sealed. If we have a large outbreak at our prisons, that will absolutely spread into our communities at large.”