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(Editor’s note: This article was submitted in July 2020) 

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is actively aware of COVID-19. This became a reality when CDCR transferred infected prisoners from a prison in Chino to San Quentin. This transfer resulted in a huge outbreak of infections in excess of 1,300 prisoners in San Quentin and over 100 staff members. 

What is CDCR doing to reduce the COVID-19 problem? They have announced the pending release of over 8,000 inmates statewide — all of whom are nearing the end of their sentences. The candidates for release will be non-violent offenders, not sexual predators, and most should have a place to go upon release. The problem is that too many of these people are young and could return to criminal lifestyles, and in many cases return to prison in short order. This is not what should be done.

A better program for CDCR would be to release medically fragile prisoners over the age of 60 years—including lifers and former violent offenders — with diseases such as diabetes, breathing problems, compromised immune systems and cancer. CDCR should take this action before the COVID-19 outbreak harms them further or kills them.

The public will not be at risk from such releases. These people are older and are not the same people they were when convicted. The likelihood of them returning to prison is low. 

CDCR seems  unwilling or unable to determine accurately what solutions are best in terms of public safety. They must show some compassion and some common sense. 

Many California prisoners have petitioned for early release sighting these arguments. To date, CDCR has resisted this sensible approach, but perhaps it will finally yield and do the right thing.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Stan Moore is a writer in California.