California may release 10% of inmates in pandemic response

California
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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.

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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.

State lawmakers and advocates gathered Thursday at the prison north of San Francisco to call for more releases, and Newsom met earlier this week with one of two federal judges who are taking preliminary steps to order widespread releases.

But the governor seemed to criticize those calling for freeing inmates without careful consideration.

“Just the other day, someone presented to me a case of an individual, a young child the age of my son that was strapped up in a closet with duct tape and was killed by a man as he bled out. That’s not someone that’s high on my list in terms of release,” he said.

“When people are just saying just release thousands and thousands of people, I hope they’re being thoughtful and considerate of not only the victims but the prospects of people re-offending,” Newsom added.

Christine Ward, executive director of Crime Victims Alliance, said she’s concerned at the rate of releases.

“We believe that COVID-19 has presented this administration with a perfect storm to use in efforts to empty out California State Prisons and close prisons,” she said in a written statement. “This pandemic should not be used as a launching board to empty prisons as ultimately it will negatively impact the public’s safety.”

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