California to Release 8,000 Prisoners Early to Make Space During Pandemic

12-week sentence credits will free eligible inmates in early August

NBC Universal, Inc.

More than 8,000 California prisoners will be eligible for an early release program next month to make space for safety measures related to the coronavirus pandemic, the state Corrections Department said Friday.

The move comes as multiple state prisons have seen coronavirus outbreaks in their inmate populations, most notably one at San Quentin in Marin County, where more than 200 staff and more than 1,300 prisoners have active cases.

A letter to inmates Thursday said eligible inmates will receive a credit on their sentence effective Aug. 1 to clear space during the pandemic. Releases are expected shortly thereafter, corrections officials said.

“These actions are taken to provide for the health and safety of the incarcerated population and staff,” Corrections Secretary Ralph Diaz said in a statement. “We aim to implement these decompression measures in a way that aligns both public health and public safety.”

The Corrections Department already had reduced inmate populations systemwide by about 10,000 since March to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission within its facilities.

Systemwide, there are 2,286 active cases of COVID-19 in the California prison population, with the death toll at 31, a Corrections spokesperson said. There are 719 active cases among Corrections Department staff.

Exceptions in the early release program are those on death row, those serving life sentences without the possibility of parole and those found guilty of serious rules violations since March 1 while in prison, Corrections officials said. Also ineligible are domestic violence offenders, violent offenders and those who have prior or current sentences that require them to register as sex offenders, Corrections officials said.

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