CSAC Bulletin Article

Senate Hearing on COVID-19 in California State Prisons

July 2, 2020

The Senate Public Safety Committee held an oversight hearing, COVID-19 in California State Prisons. The hearing focused on the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) current and future plans for handling of increases in COVID-19 cases in state prisons, which has now spread to at least 19 state correctional facilities.

Members of the committee were greatly concerned with the level of testing and adequacy of the COVID-19 response within CDCR institutions. There were specific concerns regarding the drastic increase in COVID-19 inmate cases since CDCR resumed prison intakes from county jails and prison transfers from Chino to San Quentin. Concerns were also expressed regarding cooperation between CDCR and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly discussed the ongoing collaboration with CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz and J. Clark Kelso, the federally appointed healthcare Receiver, to ensure that San Quentin and other state prisons receive support for increased testing of inmates and staff, increased availability of additional medical staff, and testing supplies. Dr. Ghaly acknowledged that a curve analysis, while done for the general population of the state, was not done for the inmate populations but indicated that it is something that the California Department of Public Health is willing to examine.

Secretary Diaz described the actions taken by CDCR since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. He stated that baseline testing will be made available for staff and inmates. Also, CDCR has suspended intake from all county jails until July 29, 2020, and stopped all CDCR transfers. When asked about requiring staff to wear masks, Secretary Diaz confirmed that staff are required to wear masks and those that do not adhere to this requirement will be reprimanded accordingly. Secretary Diaz assured the members that additional actions and efforts will be taken to address the increased COVID-19 cases not only in San Quentin, but other institutions as well. He expressed his sincere concern and dedication to staff, inmates and the community.

Among others, the second panel included formerly incarcerated individuals who discussed the inadequacies in medical treatment that they received while incarcerated and also witnessed the poor medical treatment of others. Glen Stailey, President of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, expressed concerns around staff contracting COVID-19 as employees and possibly infecting their families.

The 4-hour long hearing ended with Senator Nancy Skinner’s appreciation for all of the panelist’s participation and public comments.

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