October 22, 2020


Ashley Chambers, [email protected]

Jessica Brand, [email protected] 

Advocates Applaud Court Ruling to Reduce San Quentin Prison Population by Half, Urge Against Mass Transfers

October 22, 2020– Today, in response to a Court decision ordering a reduction in the population of those held at San Quentin, members of the #StopSanQuentinOutbreak Coalition issued a statement urging the Governor to continue releasing people back into their communities instead of transferring individuals to other facilities. The group praised the Governor for recognizing the need for second chances this legislative session, asked that he continue on this path and release people from San Quentin in order to keep everyone safe, and reminded him of the deadly disaster that occurred when CDCR resorted to a facility transfer to deal with a COVID outbreak before.

On October 20, 2020, the First Appellate District Court of Appeal in California ordered the removal “of the number of prisoners necessary to reduce the population of that prison to no more that 1,775” incarcerated people in San Quentin. Advocates with the #StopSanQuentinOutbreak Coalition strongly applaud the In re Von Staich decision, which states that the Warden of San Quentin State Prison and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) “acted with deliberate indifference” to the well-being of the incarcerated people in their care.

This order sets an important precedent for the right of incarcerated people to be protected from harm in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic. The ruling finds that the CDCR violated the 8th amendment (cruel and unusual punishment) by ignoring the calls of public health officials and other medical experts who urged at least a 50% reduction in the San Quentin State Prison population in order to protect the health of people living and working there, and to save lives.

Advocates, including those on the legal team litigating the adjacent San Quentin habeas case, urge CDCR to avoid making mass transfers and repeating the deadly mistake that caused the catastrophic outbreak among those held at San Quentin and led to the tragic loss of 28 lives at the prison in just four months. We also strongly oppose the potential transfer of incarcerated people to ICE detention centers upon their release from San Quentin State Prison. 

Although CDCR has reduced their statewide incarcerated population by 20,000 people, advocates and public health experts have repeatedly and vehemently emphasized that decarceration through expedited releases is the only safe solution to the pandemic.

“It is important that CDCR does not attempt to deflect from the crisis they created at San Quentin by doing mass transfers to other prisons, and thereby create new potential hotspots. California’s prisons have a COVID-19 infection rate that is 4.5 times higher than California’s non incarcerated population, and a death rate that is twice as high. CDCR can prevent that from getting worse. We agree with recommendations from public health experts – the best way to keep our incarcerated loved ones and communities safe is to release people through decarceration,” adds James King, State Campaigner with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. 

The Court’s opinion lays out a promising blueprint to expand the two expedited release plans the CDCR has already implemented. As the ruling says, “the two expedited release programs aimed at prisoners near the end of their sentences, by excluding any inmate serving time for a violent offense, necessarily exclude from consideration many San Quentin inmates who are unlikely to present a danger to the public despite their past offenses.”

We urge the CDCR to follow the lead of Governor Gavin Newsom who, in the midst of this pandemic, signed the Racial Justice Act, pledged to close Deuel Vocational Institution, and signed legislation to expand elderly parole consideration to people who are 50 years of age and have been incarcerated for at least 20 years. Governor Newsom has demonstrated that his administration will follow the data which is at this point universal: there is no correlation between a person’s commitment offense and any current threat to public safety. In addition, Isabella Borgeson, organizer for #StopSanQuentinOutbreak adds, “Any plan which does not give individualized consideration to the people at San Quentin places people at an unreasonable risk to become infected by this deadly pandemic.” For the sake of safer communities we continue to advocate for urgent, safe, responsible releases.


About #StopSanQuentinOutbreak: The #StopSanQuentinOutbreak coalition is composed of a collective of formerly incarcerated folks, loved ones with direct connections to San Quentin State Prison, community organizers, and currently incarcerated folks at SQSP. It is supported by social justice organizations including the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Re:Store Justice, Asian Prisoner Support Committee, and more. The campaign is an effort to raise awareness about the growing spread of the COVID-19 virus at San Quentin State Prison (SQSP), after the recent transfer of 121 incarcerated persons from a known COVID-19 “hot spot.” Over 2,200 people have tested positive for COVID-19 at SQSP alone. We implore Governor Newsom to grant large-scale releases across California prisons, jails, and detention centers now to stop the spread of COVID-19 across California. The demands of the coalition can be found here.