Despite a growing push from advocates, California Gov. Gavin Newsom is not considering releasing violent inmates from California State Prisons in response to the coronavirus epidemic.
As of Monday, one inmate and five correctional employees in California prisons tested positive for coronavirus. Due to the pandemic, corrections officials are facing more pressure to release some of the 123,000 inmates early.
Newsom fears that releasing inmates early without their parole plans in place would add to the state’s homelessness crisis.
“I have no interest – and I want to make this crystal clear – in releasing violent criminals from our system. And I won’t use a crisis as an excuse to create another crisis,” Newsom told the Associated Press.
“If we start to release prisoners that are not prepared with their parole plans, they may end up out on the streets and sidewalks, in a homeless shelter. If we don’t prepare people to get back on their feet, they may end up in the emergency rooms.”
Over 2,200 people in California have tested positive for coronavirus, and over 40 individuals have died from the disease. In 2019, the state’s annual homelessness count revealed over 150,000 people living on the streets.
Dozens of advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote a joint letter to Newsom last week requesting him to release all medically fragile adults and inmates scheduled to be paroled through next year.
“There’s a lot of advocacy in this space saying, ‘Let’s just let out tens of thousands of prisoners,’” Newsom said. That’s not the way we will go about this. We will do it in a very deliberative way, and to the extent we have to have a release valve … it will be for those nonviolent offenses and we will do it in a very systemic way and we are working in real time with our sheriffs to see what that looks like, and with our folks at the state system.”
However, several counties have already released hundreds of inmates from county jails.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva told reporters last week that the county has released over 600 inmates since the end of February. He also said that arrests have dropped to 60 a day from about 300.
San Francisco county signed off on the early release for 26 inmates, and Alameda County approved early releases for over 300 inmates.