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Court orders San Quentin prison population reduced by 50 percent

Court orders San Quentin prison population reduced by 50 percent
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The population of San Quentin state prison has been ordered to be reduced to less than half its capacity by a California appeals court.

The Associated Press reports that the court cited “deliberate indifference” to the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on the prison population in its decision. Unless prison officials successfully appeal the decision, they will have to transfer or parole about half of the roughly 2,900 inmates currently at San Quentin, the news service noted.

In its ruling, the court referred to San Quentin’s coronavirus outbreak as “the worst epidemiological disaster in California correctional history.” At the peak of the outbreak, nearly 75 percent of the inmate population had tested positive for the coronavirus and 28 prisoners had died, the AP noted. Out of the prison’s population, there are currently about 700 prisoners who are ineligible for parole, it added.

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The outbreak reportedly occurred when infected prisoners were sent to San Quentin from another Southern California facility without being tested. 

Experts from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of California, San Francisco said that the prison’s architecture and age contributed to the severity of the outbreak. They cited “exceedingly poor ventilation, extraordinarily close living quarters, and inadequate sanitation” as factors that worsened the spread of the virus. The prison, first opened in 1852, is the oldest in California.

The AP notes that there is only one active coronavirus case at San Quentin and two other prisons now have higher numbers of active cases and total infections.

The new ruling came after Ivan Von Staich, a 64-year-old prisoner currently serving 17 years to life for second-degree murder, petitioned the court, according to the news service, which added that both he and his 65-year-old cellmate tested positive for the coronavirus while sharing a cell “so small that you can touch the walls with your hands.”