California Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to release thousands of inmates by the end of the month in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus in state prisons.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announced on Friday that the state intends to release roughly 8,000 inmates by the end of August, according to The Sacramento Bee. The announcement came one day after the CDCR told its inmates that most would receive a 12-week credit toward time served because of the pandemic.
The CDCR will release prisoners in three stages. The state will begin releasing prisoners with 180 days or fewer left on their sentences who have not been convicted of a violent crime or are registered or required to register as a sex offender.
In the second stage, inmates age 30 and older with less than a year left on their sentences will be eligible for release if they are being held in one of eight prisons with “large populations of high-risk patients.” For the third stage, prisoners deemed at high risk of the coronavirus will be released as long as they are not convicted of a violent crime, required to register as a sex offender, or serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Newsom, a Democrat, said releasing the inmates was necessary to reduce the chance of outbreaks in the state’s prison population and reduce stress on the prison system.
“This is serious stuff and requires a seriousness of purpose. People are just saying just release thousands and thousands of people,” Newsom said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Each and every one of these cases are sobering, challenging, and there’s a deep responsibility that comes with this job, but a sense of deep urgency as well to decompress the system in a judicious and thoughtful way.”
El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson criticized Newsom’s action, saying that the guidelines of who will be released are still unclear. Also, because of a series of early release programs and orders signed in recent years, the vast majority of inmates still left in the prison system should stay there for public safety.
“We don’t know what the actual impact of this is going to be. We do know that it’s a high likelihood there will be significant increases in crime,” Pierson said.
Early release programs have been approved by federal, state, and local officials since the outbreak of the coronavirus to reduce the chance of the virus spreading through lockups among inmates who usually don’t have enough room to properly socially distance. Attorney General William Barr directed the Bureau of Prisons to prioritize early release programs at institutions in several states back in April.
In some places, early release programs have resulted in the release of inmates who are recaptured and taken into custody again for new crimes. In New York City, dozens of inmates released on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s order ended up back in prison within a matter of weeks.
“I think it’s unconscionable just on a human level that folks were shown mercy and this is what some of them have done,” de Blasio said in April.
The spate of new crimes following the mass release of prisoners was warned about by New York City’s leading prosecutors in each of its five boroughs. The prosecutors warned that de Blasio’s administration was approving prisoners for release too quickly, and was resulting in many prisoners convicted of violent crimes being let back out onto the streets.
“We were assured that the release would not include those serving time for domestic violence or sex offenses, given the risks to victims,” the prosecutors said in a letter to de Blasio. “Unfortunately, we later learned that such individuals were indeed included in the ranks of those to be released.”