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San Quentin reports spike in COVID-19 cases

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SAN QUENTIN, Calif. (KRON) — San Quentin State Prison is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases in the general population.

A coalition of advocacy groups is calling on the state to release inmates to curve the spread of the virus.

Just this week — the number of inmates at San Quentin State Prison testing positive for COVID-19 has jumped from 26 to 47.​

And, it had no confirmed cases until May 30, when 121 inmates from another state facility were transferred to the prison.​

One where 500 inmates had tested positive and 13 died.​

“Right now, the quality of life is very poor inside,” former inmate James King said.

James King is a former San Quentin inmate — whose sentence was commuted.​ He was released in December before the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic.​

He’s now a staff member for the Ella Baker Center for human rights.​

He says the state should parole elderly inmates.​

“These are people who are safe to release right now, and we are asking that the governor do a large scale release in order to create more distancing for people inside,” King said.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says it has already paroled 3,500 inmates during the pandemic to relieve overcrowding system-wide, and that more releases are forthcoming.​

San Quentin’s population is at roughly 122% of its maximum capacity.​

“It needs to be at least 80% capacity in order to create any possibility of social distancing, and grouping people in groups, just like we’re supposed to do on the outside,” Rebecca Weiker said. “Stay in our family group, and that’s what people in prison are supposed to do, but if you have a dormitory of 100 people, or many tiers of cells that are packed closely together, sharing the same phones, bathroom, showers, then that kind of public health requirement is impossible to meet.”​

The Department of Corrections says, statewide, more than 2,100 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19.​

17 people have died.​

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