COVID-19 overtakes California’s federal prisons, infecting 1,534 prisoners, killing 31

Amber-Rose-Howard-and-Romarilyn-Ralston-1, COVID-19 overtakes California’s federal prisons, infecting 1,534 prisoners, killing 31, Behind Enemy Lines
Amber-Rose Howard and Romarilyn Ralston

Facing indifference from Gov. Newsom, advocates race against time to save the lives of incarcerated people in California state prisons 

by Brian Kaneda 

Newsweek reports that more than a third of federally incarcerated people with coronavirus are now in one institution, Terminal Island Prison in Southern California. 

The Federal Board of Prisons (BOP) recorded a staggering 900 percent increase in coronaviruses cases this week. Criminal justice advocates have pummeled state authorities with unprecedented campaigns for mass releases since early March, warning that California’s state prison system and any adjacent communities are only weeks away from widespread, deadly COVID-19 outbreaks if urgent action is not taken to reduce prison populations. 

“By not authorizing vast clemencies and releases, our governor is allowing Californians to face the deepest devastation during this pandemic. The right thing to do is so clear.”

“Gov.Newsom has done virtually nothing to protect the 118,000 people serving sentences in California prisons and the 37,000 people who work there,” said Amber-Rose Howard, executive director of Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), a grassroots coalition of more than 80 organizations demanding the release of incarcerated people from prisons, jails and detention centers in the interest of public health. 

“It’s shocking to watch this preventable tragedy unfold,” said Ms. Howard. “By not authorizing vast clemencies and releases, our governor is allowing Californians to face the deepest devastation during this pandemic. The right thing to do is so clear.”

Activists from California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), a CURB member organization, say they are in a race against time to prevent widespread illness and death for the most vulnerable prison populations. The group launched a new website this morning – CareNotCages.com – to support elderly and at-risk people in women’s prisons who are petitioning the Gov. Newsom for clemency and immediate release. The first three women to appear on the site – Lucia Bravo, 82; Patricia Wright, 68; and Maria Aredondo, 67 – all have been diagnosed with cancer. 

“It’s heartbreaking. These women present no risk to public safety. They’ve all been in prison more than 20 years. Two are grandmothers,” said Romarilyn Ralston, project director at Project Rebound and an advocate with CCWP. “They belong at home with their families, who are willing to care for them.” 

Gov. Newsom received hundreds of applications for commutation months ago, including the womens’ applications, but has yet to respond. 

Brian Kaneda can be reached at brian@curbprisonspending.org.