California Covid prison outbreak – WSJ
Republican governors are skewered over delays in Covid-19 testing, and some undoubtedly could have planned better for an increase in cases once they reopen. But the government’s mistakes are not confined to GOP-led states. Consider how botched California inmate transfers spread the virus to prisons and beyond.
More than 6,700 prisoners and 1,300 correctional service workers in California have tested positive for the virus. Prisons are particularly prone to epidemics as inmates reside in closed and confined spaces, but the state has compounded the problem by transferring infected inmates between institutions.
An outbreak this spring at the California Institution for Men in Chino, east of Los Angeles, sickened more than 960 prisoners and staff and killed 19. Staff did not wear masks. In June, the State Department of Prison and Rehabilitation Services transferred 120 inmates to San Quentin State Prison in Marin County. Detainees were not tested before being moved or subsequently isolated.
San Quentin soon experienced an epidemic. More than 2,000 of its 3,400 inmates have tested positive and a dozen have died. Three dozen were released while still infected. Marin County blamed the increase in the number of cases and hospitalizations to the transfer from the jail.
This is not the end of the story. Last month, prison officials decided to transfer several inmates from San Quentin to a coronavirus-free facility in Lassen County. The detainees tested negative before being transferred but were not subsequently isolated. In recent weeks, more than 400 inmates and nine facility employees have been infected. Cases have also exploded within the local community.
“We had managed to contact Trace, we had managed to do what we were supposed to do,” Lassen County Supervisory Board vice chairman David Teeter, a Democrat, told the Sacramento Bee. “And now, thanks to the state of California, we have an epidemic.”
So now, to reduce prison overcrowding and the spread of the virus, Governor Gavin Newsom has announced that the state will release 8,000 inmates. Don’t rely on them to wear face masks and self-isolate for 14 days after release. California has already released 3,500 prisoners and reports say 153 were still infected.
Some district attorneys and police chiefs blamed the rise in crime on releases from prison. In San Francisco, burglaries have increased by about 70% since state releases began compared to the same time last year. As Californians are confined again, many criminals will run free.
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