LANCASTER- About 200 advocates for prison inmates demonstrated outside the California State Prison in Lancaster Saturday afternoon to raise awareness of the risk of COVID-19 infection in the prison system.
Protesters carried signs with statements including “Governor Newsom, Emergency Released Now! Health Over Punishment.” Organizer Michelle Tran, of a group called Families United to End LWOP, wore a T-shirt that read, “Death by Incarceration.” She said the protesters want inmates at low risk for re-offending to be released and greater efforts at sanitation for those who remain.
“Someone needs to be held accountable,” Tran said. Her 43-year-old husband, Thai, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for a murder conviction and has served 24 years in Avenal State Prison, near Fresno.
Prisons are still overcrowded despite the release of nonviolent offenders because more inmates are always coming in, Tran said. Her group is calling on the state to expedite the release of inmates age 50 and older and those with underlying medical issues.
She said 41,463 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, including her husband. He didn’t become ill, but 144 men and women have died in prison, including 52 in the past 30 days.
“The health and safety of all who live in and work at our state institutions is our top priority,” CDCR officials said in a statement. “The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and California Correctional Health Care Services have worked closely together and taken extraordinary measures to address COVID-19 within our institutions and to keep staff and the population safe, including mandating the use of masks while on institution grounds, providing personal protective equipment according to public health and health care guidance, conducting mass testing of both staff and the population, and immediately implementing isolation and quarantine protocols in response to any positive COVID-19 case.”
Officials added, “Our active positive cases have decreased over the last several weeks, even as cases within the community continue to climb. We take the COVID-19 pandemic very seriously and will continuously adjust our response as new information and situations arise.”
Families United to End LWOP stages demonstrations at prisons across California to urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to interview inmates incarcerated for life without parole and consider commuting their sentences if they have been model prisoners for decades. She says her husband has earned college degrees and tries to set a good example for younger men.