EDITOR’S NOTE – This article (originally published in the liberal Daily Beast) is far too sympathetic to death row inmates. But, it’s very informative about the terrible situation in CA prisons, and Governor Newsom’s failed policies.
- COVID-19 has infiltrated 20 of California’s 34 prisons, though it has been especially bad at nine. As of Tuesday, more than 5,300 inmates statewide had tested positive for the virus and 29 had died.
- San Quentin’s coronavirus outbreak could prove to be the worst at any prison in the nation. It began in mid-June, shortly after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation transferred 121 inmates to San Quentin from the state prison in Chino, east of Los Angeles, in a failed effort to stem an outbreak there.
- The plague raging inside San Quentin’s walls is spreading into the outside world. Dozens of San Quentin inmates are being treated in community hospitals, including at least 20 death row inmates as of last week. Each is guarded by two correctional officers round-the-clock.
- In a hearing last week, U.S. District Court Judge Jon S. Tigar in San Francisco … urged the state to release elderly and infirm inmates who pose no public safety threat. “These releases need to happen immediately. There simply is no time to wait,” Tigar said, directing his comments at Newsom.
- On Monday, Newsom said San Quentin’s population would be reduced to about 3,000 in coming weeks. “We’ve been working on this every single day for the last three weeks,” he said.
The old men live in cramped spaces and breathe the same ventilated air. Many are frail, laboring with heart disease, liver and prostate cancer, tuberculosis, dementia. And now, with the coronavirus advancing through their ranks, they are falling one after the next.
This is not a nursing home, not in any traditional sense. It is California’s death row at San Quentin State Prison, north of San Francisco. Its 670 residents are serial killers, child murderers, men who killed for money and drugs, or shot their victims as part of their wasted gangster lives. Some have been there for decades, growing old behind bars. One is 90, and more than 100 are 65 or older.
Executions have been on hold in California since 2006, stalled by a series of legal challenges. And they won’t resume anytime soon: In 2019, two months after taking office, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on executions and ordered that San Quentin’s death chamber be dismantled. But death has come to San Quentin nonetheless.
In recent days, five death row inmates have died after contracting COVID-19. Almost 200 others are thought to be ill with the virus, according to a Newsom administration official not authorized to speak publicly. Scores more are refusing to be tested. For now, there is no clear remedy and no end in sight.
San Quentin’s coronavirus outbreak could prove to be the worst at any prison in the nation. It began in mid-June, shortly after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation transferred 121 inmates to San Quentin from the state prison in Chino, east of Los Angeles, in a failed effort to stem an outbreak there. At least 20 of the Chino transfers subsequently tested positive for the disease.
Now, more than 1,400 San Quentin inmates have the virus, or more than a third of the prison’s 4,000 inmates. And death row has been hit particularly hard. Of the six inmate deaths that prison authorities have formally attributed to the coronavirus, three were on death row. Two more death row inmates who died in recent days also tested positive for the virus, though the official cause of death is pending.