California could be on track to release a total of 17,600 inmates early to make space in crowded facilities during the coronavirus pandemic.
A spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) told Fox News that “in total, 8,032 [inmates] have had their releases expedited and overall, we have reduced the total incarcerated population by more than 18,300 since March as a result of suspension of county jail intake, the expedited releases” and those released in accordance with their sentences.
“We’re glad the governor is taking action to release more people,” Californians for Safety and Justice Executive Director Jay Johnson said in a July statement. “This is absolutely critical for the health and safety of every Californian. Too many people are incarcerated for too long in facilities that spread poor health.”
The first 3,500 inmates were freed in April to create space in crowded prisons and 6,900 more were deemed eligible for release in early July, totaling 10,400 releases.
Additionally, early releases could include “700 eligible offenders who have less than one-year to serve who reside within identified institutions that house large populations of high-risk patients” and “approximately 6,500 persons identified by the court-appointed Federal Receiver as medically high-risk for complications should they contract COVID-19,” the CDRC spokesperson said. That totals about 17,600 potential early releases.
“This is not a blanket release, the point-in-time numbers are just a step in the review process as the department works tirelessly to conduct these releases in a way that aligns public health and public safety,” the spokesperson said.
In a filing last week with a federal judge who oversees one of the major lawsuits facing the prison system, officials increased the estimated total of releases from 10,400 to 17,600. However, prison officials say Corrections Secretary Ralph Diaz is likely to block the release of about 5,500, in part because many are serving life prison sentences.
Nearly 2,000 state prison system employees also have been infected with COVID-19 and eight have died. The latest, Sgt. Seeyengkee Ly, who worked at Valley State Prison in Chowchilla, died on Aug. 2 from pneumonia complications after contracting COVID-19.
Officials have been under intense pressure from advocates, some state lawmakers and two federal judges to release more inmates, particularly after a botched transfer of infected inmates into San Quentin State Prison led to the state’s worst prison outbreak. Nearly 170 inmates still are infected there and 23 died, including 11 on death row. More than 2,000 have either recovered or were released while infected.
City police departments across the country have altered their operations due to the pandemic, including arrests that require less contact and efforts to avoid prosecutions for people for low-level crimes to prevent jail overcrowding.
Nationwide, more than 100,000 people were released from state and federal prisons between March and June, a decrease of 8 percent, according to an analysis by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press.
California, New York, Ohio and Texas are among some of the first states that issued orders to release elderly and sick inmates home early, the Wall Street Journal reported in March.
California Police Chiefs Association president Eric Nuñez said he understands the urgency of reducing the prison population but is alarmed by the release of some violent criminals “without a consideration for the larger impact on public safety.” He said the chiefs want to work with prison officials on improving the decision-making process.
Big cities like New York, LA, Detroit, Boston and others are calling on city and state officials to defund police departments or allocate funds previously given to police departments to other public services.
Chicago, Louisville, Kentucky, Detroit, Baltimore and Philadelphia have seen spikes in crime and shooting amid nationwide civil unrest that came on the tail of months-long lockdown restrictions and the officer-involved death of George Floyd on May 25. Among the countries 50 largest cities, homicides have increased 24 percent so far in 2020 to 3,612, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“It’s no surprise that when politicians insist on releasing violent felons into our communities, emptying our jails, refusing to require bond for persons charged with crimes, and all the while calling for the defunding or abolition of police, that violent crime goes through the roof,” Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations told Fox News.
He added that “more violent offenders on the street plus reduced law enforcement equals death and destruction in our communities.”