California prisoners seek federal court action to lower population levels

Written by on 03/26/2020

Representing California prisoners, the Prison Law Office, Michael Bien and other attorneys are calling for immediate reduction of the prison population. In this photo, guards line up to hear the speakers at a huge rally called Organize San Quentin on Feb. 22, 2012, just outside the San Quentin main gate. At the time, in the midst of the 2011-2013 hunger strikes, the thousand protesters were calling for release from indefinite solitary confinement. Now the attorneys are calling for release from prison altogether. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

by Corene Kendrick, Prison Law Office Staff Attorney

On March 25, 2020, attorneys from the Prison Law Office and the law firm of Rosen, Bien, Galvan, and Grunfeld filed an emergency motion
in the three-judge panel of the Coleman v. Newsom and Plata v. Newsom, the long-running California Department of
Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) prison overcrowding lawsuits, to order CDCR to immediately reduce
the population of incarcerated people because of the unacceptable risk of harm
from COVID-19.

The emergency motion asks that the federal court order CDCR to reduce the population density in crowded dorms and living spaces to a level that would allow social distancing by releasing to parole or post-release community supervision all people who are at low risk as determined by CDCR’s risk assessment instruments, or are serving a term for a non-violent offense or are paroling within the year.

The motion also asks that CDCR release or
relocate all incarcerated people who are at high risk of COVID-19, including,

(a) people aged 65 and over;

(b) people with chronic lung disease or
moderate to severe asthma;

(c) people who have severe heart conditions;

(d) people who are immunocompromised (for
example, due to cancer treatment, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune
deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, or prolonged use of
immune-weakening medications);

(e) people with severe obesity;

(f) people with uncontrolled diabetes;

(g) people with renal failure;

(h) people with liver disease; and

(i) people who are pregnant.

The emergency motion asks that the federal court order CDCR to reduce the population density in crowded dorms and living spaces to a level that would allow social distancing by releasing to parole or post-release community supervision all people who are at low risk as determined by CDCR’s risk assessment instruments, or are serving a term for a non-violent offense or are paroling within the year.

The attorneys asked that in the alternative,
CDCR should be ordered to release to parole or post-release community
supervision as many people as necessary to achieve safe social distancing and
sufficient space for quarantines and isolation.

The motion relies upon the expert declarations
of correctional experts who explained that the release of vulnerable
populations – who are overwhelmingly older, seriously mentally ill, physically
disabled, and/or chronically ill – presents little or no public safety risk of
recidivism, as well as declarations from correctional medical and mental health
experts who predicted that the failure to reduce the prison population would
result in increased numbers of deaths.

Finally, the attorneys for the incarcerated
people asked that the state of California submit its plan to implement these
changes on or before April 1, 2020.

The attorneys for the prisoners submitted as
evidence in support of their order numerous photos of the squalid and
overcrowded conditions in which incarcerated people live in within the
California prison system.

Prison Law Office Managing Attorney Sara
Norman stated: “The CDCR prison system is far too crowded. The prisons house
tens of thousands of people in crowded dormitories where they live, sleep and
bathe within feet, sometimes inches – of each other. The prisons also house
tens of thousands of the people most vulnerable to death or severe
complications from COVID-19: the elderly and people with serious underlying
medical conditions.

“These conditions pose an unacceptable risk of
harm not only for people who live and work in CDCR, but also as well to the
general public.”

The attorneys asked that the court expedite
any legal briefing from the state and that the panel issue its decision as
quickly as possible, given the urgency of the situation.

Resources

For more information, please contact Sara
Norman, snorman@prisonlaw.com,
or Michael Bien, mbien@rbgg.com.

All court filings are here: https://prisonlaw.com/news/cdcr-covid-19/ and will be
updated as soon as practicable

Staff
Attorney Corene Kendrick can be reached at Prison Law Office, 1917 Fifth St., Berkeley,
CA 94710 or ckendrick@prisonlaw.com.

Source: San Francisco Bay View


Current track

Title

Artist