In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed a death penalty moratorium in California. Will it matter?
The COVID-19 outbreak unfolding at San Quentin State Prison – and in other jail and prison facilities around the state – may impose death sentences on people who never received them from the courts. As of Wednesday, over 1,100 of San Quentin’s 3,000 inmates had tested positive for the virus and one had died. Dozens were hospitalized, but hospitals had started to reject further transfers from the prison, according to the Marin Independent-Journal.
The problem is worsening, with cases reported at nearly every California prison facility. Newsom must now pursue bold and unprecedented solutions to address this unfolding humanitarian disaster. If he fails to act, the governor who sought to end the death penalty may end up overseeing the execution – by pandemic – of more prisoners than any governor in modern history.
“In California prisons, the number of cases has risen by nearly 200 percent and deaths by 144 percent during the past month,” according to the New York Times.
“We did not meet this moment,” said Assemblyman Marc Levin, D-Greenbrae, during a legislative hearing on Wednesday. Levine, who represents Marin County, called the Newsom administration’s response “an unacceptable and unmitigated disaster delivered by a lack of planning and preparation.
“This is the biggest prison catastrophe in state history, and we’re not getting the attention we need from the administration to make sure that it can be contained,” he told the Marin Independent-Journal.
Levine has called on federal judges to replace J. Clark Kelso, the federal receiver in charge of California’s prison healthcare system. The COVID-19 catastrophe at San Quentin started after Kelso authorized the transfer of inmates from a prison in Southern California to San Quentin.
“A federal judge wiped away tears Friday as he addressed an increasingly disastrous coronavirus outbreak at San Quentin prison, calling the recent transfer of infected prisoners to the facility a ‘significant failure of policy and planning,’” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
“We know what’s going to happen. We know,” said Judge Jon Tigar said, his voice cracking,” reported the Chronicle. “So, you have the chance to avoid some unnecessary infection and mortality at San Quentin. Probably.”
The judge urged authorities to find ways to transfer or release more prisoners to avoid unspeakable carnage.