California plans to prematurely release thousands of prisoners in an effort to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced the move Tuesday, stating it would expedite the transition to parole for up to 3,500 nonviolent inmates. Officials say the early releases—which will be granted over the next 60 days—will increase space within the facilities, which will allow for better social distancing practices. CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz said the decision was made to ensure the safety of its inmates as well as the prison staff.
"We do not take these new measures lightly. Our first commitment at CDCR is ensuring safety — of our staff, of the incarcerated population, of others inside our institutions, and of the community at large," Diaz said in a press release. "However, in the face of a global pandemic, we must consider the risk of COVID-19 infection as a grave threat to safety, too."
Prisoners who are eligible for the early release must have fewer than 60 days remaining in their sentence; those with less than 30 days will be given priority.
California prisons have already implemented a number of measures to prevent further spread of COVID-19; these include suspending visitations, enforcing temperature screenings among staff, and pausing intake from county jails, which is projected to reduce the prison population by 3,000 within a month.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, California had 8,384 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday. The CDCR reported 22 of its employees and four inmates tested positive for the virus.
New York state has taken similar steps. Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the release of more than 1,000 parole violators, as coronavirus infections surged in jails and prison facilities.
"We’re releasing people who are in jails because they violated parole for non-serious reasons," Cuomo told MSNBC. "And wherever we can get people out of jails, out of prisons, now, we are."