SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — As a COVID-19 outbreak has raged within the California prison system, the population of inmates has fallen below 100,000 for the first time since 1990 as officials accelerated an early release program to ease the spread of the virus.

Prison officials said as of Friday there were 99,929 incarcerated inmates as several thousand have been given an early parole. Gov. Gavin Newsom and state prison officials said their goal was to have at least 8,000 inmates released under the plan by the end of August.

They were taking the action in an attempt to bring a COVID-19 outbreak within the system under control. As of Friday, 19 inmates have died of COVID-19 each at San Quentin and Chino over the course of the outbrek. Of those who have died at San Quentin, 10 have been death row inmates.

There have been 1,033 new coronavirus cases reported in the state’s prisons over the last two weeks, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Currently, Avenal State Prison has the largest number of active cases with 381, San Quentin follows with 268, the California Correction Institution in Tehachapi has 203, the California Institution for Women in Corona has 149 and California Correctional Center in Susanville has 128 to round out the top five.

In all, there are 1,443 active cases in the system.

The 8,000 inmates to be released by the end of August are in addition to the state’s reduction of about 10,000 inmates since the start of the pandemic.

“We’re glad the Governor is taking action to release more people. This is absolutely critical for the health and safety of every Californian,” said Jay Jordan, Executive Director, Californians for Safety and Justice in a prepared statement. “Too many people are incarcerated for too long in facilities that spread poor health. Supporting the health and safety of all Californians means releasing people unnecessarily incarcerated and transforming our justice system”

“These actions are taken to provide for the health and safety of the incarcerated population and staff,” said CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz in a statement. “We aim to implement these decompression measures in a way that aligns both public health and public safety.”

For all those releasing under these efforts, CDCR is making victim notifications in accordance with all CDCR procedures and state law.

In order to be eligible, inmates must meet the following criteria:
• Have 180 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 under Penal Code 290
• Not have an assessment score that indicates a high risk for violence

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