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San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin State PrisonKate Sosin

Two new deaths in San Quentin prison brings total to nine

The latest news on the coronavirus outbreaks inside our nation’s prisons and jails


Two more inmates at California’s San Quentin State Prison died at outside hospitals over the weekend from complications of COVID-19, according to an announcement from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The death count at San Quentin is now 9 people. Coronavirus cases at the facility have surpassed 2,000. That number includes 1,455 cases that are still active. In addition, The Sacramento Bee reports that “California’s prison system is forcing Sacramento-area correctional officers and mental health care nurses to transfer to San Quentin State Prison,” prompting fears that those workers could carry the coronavirus back to their own facilities when they return.

In a letter last week, state prison officials said that California plans to release up to 8,000 prisoners starting next month in an effort to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. “To continue to effectively fight this virus, we must create more space in our prisons,” CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz wrote, “both to expand physical distancing to slow COVID-19’s spread and to ease some of the immense challenges staff face every day.”

The coronavirus outbreak at San Quentin came as a result of botched effort to transfer prisoners from the California Institute for Men in Chino, which at the time had the one of the largest concentrations of cases in the state. As of today, California is reporting 2,438 active cases in custody.

Nearly 40% of inmates at a federal prison in Texas have contracted the coronavirus, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. FCI Seagoville, located on the outskirts of Dallas, has at least 785 positive cases between inmates and staff. According to a local NBC affiliate, “Prisoners have been complaining to loved ones about conditions inside including being confined to their cells since March, their food quality and say an air conditioning system has broken.”

Last Saturday, family and loved ones of those incarcerated at Seagoville planned a protest to advocate for inmate releases. “There are people who qualify who’ve done very well, who really want to turn their lives around,” Michelle Trevino, a wife of a Seagoville inmate, told NBC.

Amid a growing coronavirus outbreak, “disgusting” conditions have been reported at Coyote Ridge Corrections about 100 miles outside of Spokane, Washington. According to The Spokesman Review, family members of inmates say the prison was out of soap for 3 weeks and some men were locked in their cells for 36 hours at a time “with another prisoner and no toilet,” forcing them to urinate in bottles and defecate in old coffee cans.

The Spokesman Review also reported that prisoners say guards haven’t been wearing masks, even though there is a mandate from the Department of Corrections to do so. Washington has 266 active cases in custody, 229 of which are at Coyote Ridge.

At a women’s prison in Missouri, a lack of a mask policy, as well as crowded conditions, stoke fear of further spread of COVID-19. The Kansas City Star reports today, “Most guards don’t wear masks. They aren’t required of anyone — guards or inmates — in many communal areas … Missouri’s prison system has seen cases spread from two facilities in May to at least a dozen now.”

In Iowa, the number of positive coronavirus cases at the Fort Dodge Correction Facility grows to 119. At least one inmate has died.

Over the weekend, Shelby County, Tennessee saw an increase in positive coronavirus cases at the local corrections facility and downtown jail. The Shelby County Division of Corrections facility now has over 100 cases—almost equally split between imprisoned and staff, 51 and 53 respectively.

Over 60 advocates, ranging from actors to academics, have participated in reading the words of those incarcerated at the Prince George County Jail in Maryland as part of the Gasping for Justice Initiative. The project is part of the Hear Us campaign and has been fighting judicial denials for release at Prince George, as well as the general conditions inside the jail.

According to the Associated Press, “A U.S. district judge on Monday ordered a new delay in federal executions, hours before the first lethal injection was scheduled to be carried out at a federal prison in Indiana. The Trump administration immediately appealed to a higher court, asking that the executions move forward.”

In addition, the Justice Department announced yesterday that a staff member who helped plan the execution tested positive for coronavirus. If this federal execution, and the two others scheduled for later this week, move forward, they will be the first since 2003.