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Prison officials plan to transfer 150 detainees from San Quentin, hit by coronaviruses

Prison officials are planning to land up to 150 people imprisoned from the coronavirus-condemned San Quentin state prison in an Bakersfield area as early as Monday, according to sources, in a critical move and a lawmaker said he recalled. the failed transfer that triggered the outbreak of San Quentin in the first place.

A spokesman for the California Corrections and Rehabilitation Department confirmed the planned move, but did not specify how many people would be included.

“The department is very concerned about the increase in COVID-19 positive cases in San Quentin, and in order to create more space to facilitate physical removal, quarantine and health care efforts, the CDCR will transfer some detainees to North Kern State Prison, “said spokeswoman Dana Simas in an email. “Every precaution was taken before and after the transfer.”


But members of the family of imprisoned men have said they fear that the move by prison officials will increase the spread of the virus and perhaps introduce the virus into another vulnerable community.

“I think what they are doing is extraordinarily risky with this disease,” said Barbara Scott, whose husband is in San Quentin but is not expected to move. “They cannot guarantee that someone who has done the negative test will not be positive a few days later. … I think the CDCR should focus on fixing what’s wrong with San Quentin right now, rather than transferring the inmates to another prison.

And Marc Levine, a member of the State Assembly representing Marin County, said he was concerned about the pending transfer of San Quentin detainees to North Kern, repeating the transfer a month ago of detainees from the California Institution for Men in Chino in Corcoran and San Quentin prisons – which he called “probably the largest prison health error in the history of the state”.

“Every time you move prisoners into this environment it’s a risky gamble,” he added, adding that he hopes that prison officials will be more stringent in isolating, quarantining and retesting the test. “They must learn from the mistake they made when they transferred the prisoners to San Quentin.”

Several people spoke to The Chronicle on Friday about the planned move provided that their names are not disclosed, and in accordance with the document’s anonymous source policy. They included prison workers, imprisoned people and family members who feared retaliation if they were appointed.

Some family members said that the transferred detainees will be picked up from the San Quentin West Block – where, in their view, there have been no confirmed cases so far.

But on Friday evening, three sources reported to The Chronicle that the West Block was placed in a medical quarantine, which means that someone there tested positive or was probably infected.

A San Quentin employee said that while North Kern has a lot of empty space, the coronavirus test process is imperfect, which means that some prisoners heading for North Kern may be infected even if they are negative.

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“I would feel so bad to see another prison go through what we are going through right now,” said the employee.

Between May 28 and 30, correctional officials transferred 66 men imprisoned from the California Men’s Institute in Chino to Corcoran State Prison and another 121 to San Quentin.

At the time, Chino’s facility was the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic in state prisons. The move was intended to save the medically vulnerable patients there by transferring them to prisons that, until then, had no confirmed cases in their populations.

But prison officials failed to test the men transferred for a month before they were occupied by the dozen and sent to other prisons. A handful of imprisoned people tested positive on arrival in both San Quentin and Corcoran.

The transfers touched mega-outbreaks in both facilities: on Friday, there were 545 custody cases in San Quentin and 128 in Corcoran. There are currently five coronavirus cases active in the North Kern population.

The outbreaks also extended to prison employees. There are now 89 San Quentin staff members who tested positive and 24 in Corcoran. There are 12 employees in North Kern who have tested positive, according to the prison website.

Glen Harder, 58, an inmate housed at the San Quentin North Block, said the planned move was “to double what they did to CIM (in Chino).”

“There is no way West Block has no infections,” he said, noting that men in the West Block often mix with those in the North Block, which is home to several infected people.

“All these guys worked together in the hospital, in the kitchen,” he said. “They stopped him about two days ago, but it’s too late.”

A man imprisoned in West Block said he learned that he was “on the list” for the transfer on Friday afternoon.

“My heart has fallen into my stomach,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “Was I like ‘Oh God, a repeat of Chino? Seriously? ‘I was extremely dismayed and discouraged. “

The inmate, who is under 40, said the move will take him away from his family in the Bay Area and require him to sit for hours on a full bus alongside dozens of other men who may be infected.

“It just shows indifference in my life and makes me feel devalued as a human being,” said the transfer man. “I have been imprisoned for 10 years, this must be the darkest moment of my imprisonment.”

North Kern State Prison currently contains 2,269 people imprisoned, according to state prison data. It is designed to hold more than this – around 2,700 residents – making it one of the least crowded prisons in the state’s notoriously overcrowded system, at 86% of its capacity.

But social distancing is inherently difficult in any prison and as staff move from place to place in a facility, they can carry the virus with them, infecting even those in isolated or quarantined areas. In an “Urgent Reminder” presented to a corrective health officer in mid-June, a team of health experts from the University of California warned of the danger of unlimited staff movements in San Quentin, for example, calling it “a huge risk to diffusion of COVID-19 among the units. “

Simas said that detainees are tested and evaluated before and after the transfer.

“If any of those in the identified cohort test positive before the transfer, nobody will be moved,” he said. “Once moved, they will be quarantined in currently vacant housing units in North Kern upon arrival.”

Prison officials have stated that those destined for Kern will be tested within seven days of the transfer and must be negative. They will also be screened shortly before departure and tested again after arrival in North Kern.

Upon arrival, officials said, the transferred people will be single-celled and quarantined for 14 days and tested again before further movements are made. If the move takes place, the official said, the San Quentin gym will be transformed into a medical triage center.

Congressman Levine called for the removal of the prison executive, who declared the transfer of Chino authorized to kick off the infections in San Quentin and Corcoran: J. Clark Kelso, leader of California Correctional Health Services (CCHCS), the federally appointed organization responsible for medical care in California state prisons. This complicated leadership structure, with a division of oversight between the state and federal governments, is the legacy of a lengthy federal lawsuit over the quality of medical care in prison in California.

The state corrections department blamed CCHCS on court documents, claiming that CCHCS did not properly test the men before ordering the transfer. CCHCS claimed that the transfer was planned and organized “jointly”.

In a phone call with Levine this week, Kelso admitted his mistake, referring to the transfer as a “self-inflicted injury,” said Levine.

CCHCS declined to make Kelso available for an interview. Simas said that CCHCS is helping to coordinate the imminent relocation of San Quentin residents to North Kern.

Megan Cassidy and Jason Fagone are writers on the San Francisco Chronicle staff. Email: megan.cassidy@sfchronicle.com, jason.fagone@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @meganrcassidy, @jfagone

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