10,000 tell Newsom to release prisoners to halt COVID-19 disaster

Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods tweeted today: “Today @GavinNewsom heard us. Was fortunate to speak during public comment at Senate hearing about COVID in prisons. Delivered petition with 10,720 signatures. Powerful testimony from James King @ellabakercenter and @samwlewis1 @AntiRecidivism. #StopTheSpread #CareNotCages #SeeThem

by Alameda County Deputy Public Defender Jeff Chorney 

Oakland – Since Friday, more than 10,000 people have signed a petition asking Gov. Gavin Newsom to release prisoners to stop the COVID-19 infections racing through San Quentin and other state prisons. 

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, about 2,500 people in prison currently are actively infected and at least 22 have died. San Quentin, which is located in Marin County, has spiked with more than a thousand active infections in just the last three weeks. 

“I know these men. I’ve spent time with these men. These men are intelligent, kind and compassionate. They are brothers, fathers and sons. Leaving them to get sick and die like this a moral failure,” said Alameda County Chief Public Defender Brendon Woods. “We cannot be driven by fear. It’s not too late to do the right thing but the governor must act quickly.” 

According to CDCR’s own statistics, approximately 30,000 people have a year or less left to serve and about 5,000 are over 60.

Woods will deliver the petition to Newsom and to Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, today. The petition delivery coincides with a Senate Public Safety Committee oversight hearing Skinner is hosting today in Sacramento to discuss the outbreak, which apparently was sparked by a recent prisoner transfer to San Quentin. 

The Alameda County Public Defender’s Office launched the petition last week. It calls for the immediate release of prisoners with a year or less left to serve and who are over 60 or medically vulnerable. In addition, it requests the CDCR set up early parole procedures, with a preference towards release, for anyone with less than three years to serve. 

The electronic petition was available Friday through 9:30 p.m. Tuesday; 10,720 people signed it, many on behalf of organizations. 

According to CDCR’s own statistics, approximately 30,000 people have a year or less left to serve and about 5,000 are over 60. The total prison population is about 115,000. 

Alameda County has reduced its local jail population by nearly a third during the pandemic and so far has avoided a massive virus outbreak, nor has there been any uptick in crime. Woods and others have been calling on Newsom since before the recent outbreak at San Quentin to authorize releasing prisoners. 

Dozens of organizations signed on to support the petition, including public defender offices in Alameda, Yolo, Napa, Merced, Stanislaus, Marin, Tulare, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Orange, Santa Clara, Solano, Sonoma and Monterey counties. Other signers include the American Civil Liberties Union, the California Public Defenders Association, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, East Bay Community Law Center, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, All of Us or None, Insight Prison Project, Re:Form Justice, Essie Justice Group, Root & Rebound, People Power, San Quentin 1000 Mile Club, Legal Services For Prisoners, Silicon Valley De-Bug, FOCUS Reentry Project, Justice Reinvestment Coalition of Alameda County, UnCommon Law, Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS), Urban Peace Movement, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Bend the Arc and Impact Justice. 

Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods and Deputy Public Defender Jeff Chorney can be reached via jeff.chorney@acgov.org or @BrendonWoodsPD.