Nearly 700 San Quentin Inmates Released As COVID-19 Outbreak Spreads

Nearly 700 inmates have been released from San Quentin as officials try to slow an outbreak
Photo credit Kathy Novak/KCBS Radio

The prison population at San Quentin has dropped by nearly 700 inmates since March in an effort to reduce the crowded conditions and slow an outbreak of COVID-19.

More than 2,000 inmates at the prison have contracted the virus and 12 have died. Another 226 staff were infected. 

"It’s a situation that should never have happened and only happened because plans they were trying to implement weren’t implemented properly," said attorney Cliff Gardner, who represents several death row inmates at the facility.

The outbreak started when inmates from a facility in Chino were transferred to San Quentin. 

As inmates are released prison officials are also bringing on more staff, mostly medical workers, and have converted an old plant into a 220-bed hospital. 

A number of inmates who have tested positive and become quite ill have refused to be hospitalized outside the prison walls. Gardner said inmates fear what will happen to their cells if they have to leave temporarily. One of his own clients refused to leave the prison for medical care.

"When you leave your cell sometimes your cell gets passed up, you never get your things back," he explained. "There are a host of other considerations. You get transferred to somewhere else, when you come back you’re in a different living situation. And if you’ve been there a number of years and you’re in a a living situation that you really like, you’re going to be loathe to give it up because you don’t know where you’re going to come back to."

And, with phone calls now restricted in many parts of the prison, Gardner said it has been difficult for him to communicate with his clients and find out what is happening inside.

But, he thinks officials are trying to do what is right.

"Well the situation was tragic. It’s completely unintentional but it’s nonetheless tragic," he said. "I think CDC is taking steps to do the best they can at this point."

Across the state's prison system, almost 6,800 inmates have contracted the disease and 39 have died.