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California may release 10% of inmates in pandemic response

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California officials will soon release another 3,100 inmates from state prisons in response to the coronavirus pandemic and in all now plans to release a total of more than 10,000 inmates, or nearly 10 percent of prisoners, as Gov. Gavin Newsom responds to intensifying pressure from advocates, lawmakers and federal judges.

The latest step, outlined in a memo Thursday, is projected to soon free about 3,100 inmates by granting most a one-time three-month credit. It follows other more restrictive measures that are expected to quickly bring the releases of about 7,000 inmates six months before they normally would have been paroled.

“To continue to effectively fight this virus, we must create more space in our prisons, both to expand physical distancing to slow COVID‐19′s spread and to ease some of the immense challenges staff face every day,” California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Ralph Diaz said in memo to all inmates Thursday.

He said the 12-week credit applies “to everyone in CDCR custody” except those who are on death row, serving life-without-parole, or who have a serious rules violation between March 1 and July 5.

That means it applies to about 108,000 inmates, the department estimated, and makes about 3,100 eligible for release as soon as next month. Among them are inmates in state firefighting camps that have seen dwindling numbers as the earlier releases have mounted.

Newsom had made a point that the earlier releases excluded sex offenders, violent and serious felons and those convicted of domestic violence as part of “a very methodical process.”

Diaz announced the blanket credits just hours after Newsom seemingly again rejected increasingly strident calls for the wholesale release of inmates particularly as an uncontrolled outbreak sweeps through San Quentin State Prison after a botched transfer of infected inmates.

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The Associated Press

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