SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KGET) – The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced today that prisons will be able to release more inmates due to the spread of COVID-19. In response, Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer lashed out at Gov. Gavin Newsom and his policy for “opening the floodgates for violent felons to be released into our streets.”
CDCR said that in an effort to protect staff and the vulnerable inmate population, it will release an estimated 8,000 inmates by end of August, which will help prisons with physical distancing and other safety efforts.
“We’re glad the governor is taking action to release more people. This is absolutely critical for the health and safety of every Californian,” said Jay Jordan, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice. “Too many people are incarcerated for too long in facilities that spread poor health. Supporting the health and safety of all Californians means releasing people unnecessarily incarcerated and transforming our justice system.”
In order to be eligible, inmates must meet the following criteria:
- They have a year or less left to serve on their sentence
- They are not currently serving time for domestic violence or a violent crime
- They have no current or prior sentences that require them to register as a sex offender
- They don’t have an assessment score that indicates a high risk for violence
All released inmates will be tested for COVID-19 within seven days of release, according to the CDCR. The department said it is working closely with stakeholders, local law enforcement partners and other agencies to help meet reentry needs, such as housing.
The CDCR said it has reduced inmate populations system-wide by around 10,000 to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission within its facilities.
“These actions are taken to provide for the health and safety of the incarcerated population and staff,” CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz said. “We aim to implement these decompression measures in a way that aligns both public health and public safety.”
CDCR and the District Attorney’s Office have described the inmates due to be released in opposite terms. Prison officials say inmates eligible for release are not considered high-risk for violence, but the Kern DA says the state criteria ignores inmates’ criminal pasts.
Late Friday afternoon, the Ken County District Attorney’s Office said Gov. Newsom has mismanaged the Department of Corrections for early release of some inmates amid the coronavirus pandemic. In a statement, the DA’s Office said Newsom’s actions have “effectively taken the punitive aspect of the criminal justice system off the table, and our community is paying the price.”
The DA’s Office also said CDCR’s refusal of receiving inmates sentenced to state prisons, has forced local jails like in Kern County to release its own inmates early.
Zimmer’s statement in full is below:
Governor Newsom has made clear time and time again his intent to fill our communities with violent felons. He has repeatedly issued commutations for convicted, notorious killers, and now has opened wide the floodgates for violent felons to be released into our streets. Rather than implement policies that make our prisons safe, he has chosen to use the pandemic as an excuse to intentionally cripple the criminal justice system and single-handedly overrule sentences set by hundreds of judges across the state under laws approved by the People. The Newsom administration’s continuing actions are a dereliction of his duty to the citizens and laws of California.Cynthia Zimmer, Kern County District Attorney
When asked to clarify, DA spokesperson Joe Kinzel said CDCR’s criteria for releasing inmates early is based on the crimes they are currently serving and doesn’t take into account their previous offenses. Kinzel said many of the inmates being released are “strikers” and have been previously convicted.