As San Quentin Leads COVID-19 Infections in State Prisons, Assemblymember Levine Calls for the Replacement of Prison Healthcare Receiver

For immediate release:

(SACRAMENTO, CA) – After an open admission by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR)’s federal receiver of a botched inmate transfer that caused a COVID-19 outbreak at San Quentin State Prison (San Quentin), Assemblymember Marc Levine (D – Marin County) today called on the federal courts to replace receiver J. Clark Kelso with someone capable of protecting the health of inmates and staff at California correctional facilities.

In early May, Assemblymember Levine renewed his call for CDCR and San Quentin to develop site specific plans to address a COVID-19 infection surge at the prison and ensure that limited hospital capacity in the North Bay would be able to safely accommodate civilian and prisoner patients. On May 30, a series poorly managed actions directed by Kelso and carried out by CDCR staff, transferred 121 inmates from the California Institution for Men in Chino to San Quentin, none of whom were tested for COVID-19 immediately prior to the transfer. The inmate bus transfer itself exposed inmates to the virus and once arriving at San Quentin, transferred inmates were quickly comingled with the existing inmate population, endangering thousands of inmates and staff at the prison. Transferred inmates were then housed at upper levels of the Badger Unit prison block, making it easier for any inmate vapor to fall upon other inmates below. Chino inmates were also transferred to other CDCR facilities across the state, creating a potential spike of COVID-19 infections at other prisons.

On a call this week with Levine, Assembly Budget Chair Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) and Assembly Budget Sub-Chair on Public Safety Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), Kelso acknowledged that his decision to transfer inmates from Chino to San Quentin was done “too quickly”, was a “self-inflicted wound” and a “big mistake”.

As of June 26, 545 inmates and 73 staff had tested positive for the coronavirus. Statewide, over 4,200 inmates have tested positive, including 1013 in just the past fourteen days. The highly contagious and deadly coronavirus has killed over 127,000 Americans including over 5,700 Californians. A continued infection surge of COVID-19 among the inmate population and civilian population in Marin County will overwhelm the limited hospital capacity in the North Bay and could result in additional casualties.

“Unrestrained COVID-19 infections at San Quentin State Prison is creating the worst prison health catastrophe in state history,” said Assemblymember Levine. “Since April, I called upon CDCR and San Quentin leaders to develop a prison specific plan to contain and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Those calls were ignored and now San Quentin leads the state in COVID-19 infections at state prisons. The current rate of infections at San Quentin tells us that the worst is yet to come. Receiver Kelso’s failure to listen to local health officials and cavalier approach to preventing the spread of COVID-19 places inmates, staff and the public at risk of coronavirus infection. We need a competent receiver leading efforts to protect inmates and provide appropriate healthcare at state prisons. Kelso has shown he can’t do it and I call upon U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar to replace him at once.”

Levine made his call for the replacement of the federal receiver during a floor debate and vote on the revised state budget proposal. A video of Levine’s comments can be found here:

San Quentin State Prison is located in Assemblymember Levine’s district in Marin County.


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