Additional Actions to Reduce Population and Maximize Space

In an effort to address the COVID-19 pandemic inside the state’s prisons, CDCR has implemented emergency measures to protect all those who live and work in our state prisons, and the community at-large.

In April, CDCR expedited the release of almost 3,500 incarcerated persons serving a sentence for non-violent offenses, who do not have to register as a sex offender, and who had 60 days or less to serve;

In July, CDCR announced an additional series of release actions in an effort to further decompress the population to maximize space for physical distancing, and isolation/quarantine efforts. These releases included approximately:

  • 4,800 eligible people with 180-days or less to serve; and
  • 700 eligible people who have less than one-year to serve who reside within identified institutions that house large populations of medically high-risk patients.

Additionally, CDCR issued 12 weeks of credit to incarcerated people who had no rules violations between March 1, 2020 and July 5, 2020, excluding those serving life without the possibility of parole or who are condemned.

The court appointed federal Receiver, who oversees health care in the state’s prisons, identified approximately 6,500 incarcerated people as being medically high-risk for COVID-19. These individuals are not part of the rolling releases, and the number refers only to the number of people who are eligible for consideration. It does not equate to or represent a blanket release. These medically high-risk individuals will be evaluated for potential expedited release on a case-by-case basis, based upon public safety and public health considerations.

We take these decisions very seriously and continue to work with our law enforcement, public health, and community-based partners to address their concerns and work through this public health emergency together.

Please refer to our COVID-19 response page for more information.

Background:

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is amplifying actions to protect staff and those incarcerated in the state’s 35 adult prisons. Prisons are designed to house people in close quarters, the population is aging, individuals often have chronic medical conditions, and thousands of staff are required to rotate through the institutions to keep vital security and health care operations functional 24/7. As a result, prisons and other congregate settings pose significant challenges to managing the spread of COVID-19.

While measures such as mandating the use of cloth face coverings, providing increased hygiene and disinfecting supplies, and finding alternate housing sites such as gyms and chapels has greatly slowed the spread, we must continue to decompress the population in order to achieve adequate physical distancing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are you releasing inmates?

These series of actions are driven by the department’s singular goal of ensuring the health of our incarcerated population and staff, and aim to be done in a way that aligns both public health and public safety. Reducing the prison population will also alleviate the impact on local hospitals that provide emergency care to individuals in prisons experiencing outbreaks, which can require transporting dozens of patients to outside hospitals for care.

Under what authority can CDCR release inmates?

The CDCR Secretary has the authority to expedite releases from state prison under Government Code section 8658, which allows alternative confinement or release in any case in which an emergency endangering the lives of inmates has occurred or is imminent.

How many people will be released?

Some categories require additional review for certain persons, and some cohorts will be screened on a rolling basis. As such, CDCR cannot determine the exact number of people who will be eligible for expedited release. However, the Department estimates that number to be approximately 8,000 by the end of August.

Who is being released?

CDCR has identified cohorts of inmates whose release will increase physical distancing in prisons, will protect CDCR’s most vulnerable population, and who are assessed to pose a low risk to public safety.

Series of Release Actions

Release and credit-earning actions

180-day release

This statewide cohort is currently being screened and released on a rolling basis in order to continuously create more space in all institutions throughout the pandemic. CDCR estimates that 4,800 people could be eligible for release by the end of July.

In order to be eligible, inmates must meet the following criteria:

  • Have 180 days or less to serve on their sentence
  • Are not currently serving time for domestic violence or a violent crime as defined by law
  • Have no current or prior sentences that require them to register as a sex offender under Penal Code 290
  • Not have an assessment score that indicates a high risk for violence

One-year release

CDCR is also reviewing for release incarcerated persons with 365 days or less to serve on their sentence, and who reside within identified institutions that house large populations of high-risk patients.

The institutions are: California Health Care Facility (CHCF), California Institution for Men (CIM), California Institution for Women (CIW), California Medical Facility (CMF), California Men’s Colony (CMC), California State Prison-Los Angeles County (LAC), California State Prison-Solano (SOL), Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF), Folsom State Prison (FOL), Mule Creek State Prison(MCSP), Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (RJD), and San Quentin State Prison (SQ).

In order to be eligible, inmates must meet the following criteria:

  • Have 365 days or less to serve on their sentence
  • Are not currently serving time for domestic violence or a violent crime as defined by law
  • Have no current or prior sentences that require them to register as a sex offender
  • Not have an assessment indicating a high risk for violence

Individuals who are 30 and over and who meet the eligibility criteria are immediately eligible for release. Those who meet these criteria and are age 29 or under will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis for release. CDCR will consider medical risk, case factors, and time served, among other factors, in determining whether to expedite release for those identified in this cohort.

These cohorts will be screened on a rolling basis until CDCR determines such releases are no longer necessary.

Positive Programming Credit

To recognize the impact on access to programs and credit earning during the COVID-19 pandemic, CDCR will award a one-time Positive Programming Credit (PPC) to all eligible incarcerated people.

This credit of 12 weeks will be awarded to help offset not only credits not earned due to program suspensions, but also to recognize the immense burden incarcerated people have shouldered through these unprecedented times.

In order to be eligible to receive this credit, an incarcerated individual must:

  • Be currently incarcerated
    • This includes all 35 adult institutions, community correctional facilities, fire camps, Male Community Reentry Program, Community Prisoner Mother Program, Custody to Community Transitional Program, Alternative Custody Program, and those serving a state prison sentence in a state hospital.
  • Not be condemned to death or serving life without the possibility of parole (LWOP)
    • As this authorization exists in state law and therefore does not require a regulation change, CDCR must follow the exclusions outlined in the law, which means those serving life without the possibility of parole and people who are condemned are not eligible for credit earning.
      • CDCR will ensure those who are condemned or LWOP who would otherwise fit the criteria for PPC will be recognized with a laudatory chrono for their positive behavior.
  • No serious rules violations between March 1 and July 5, 2020
    • This encompasses all Division “A” through “F” offenses, which include but are not limited to murder, rape, battery, assault, arson, escape, possession/distribution of contraband, possession of a cellphone, and gang activity.

In light of the fact many people have been sentenced to state prison but have not transferred to CDCR custody due to the suspension of county jail intake, the Department will also award the PPC to those eligible individuals. Beginning October 1, 2020, CDCR will work with each jail housing this population to apply the PPC.

Incarcerated people within two years of their calculated release date must not have had a serious rules violation report between March 1 and July 5, 2020 in order to be eligible for PPC consideration. Excluded from PPC consideration are people who are condemned or serving sentences of life without the possibility of parole.

For eligible people with longer than two years left to serve, CDCR will apply PPC according to its July 9 memo once the individual has been received into CDCR custody. For those already received into CDCR custody who were sentenced on or before July 5, 2020, CDCR will verify the individual’s eligibility with jail staff and apply the PPC accordingly.

In instances where the PPC is applied and makes the individual eligible for immediate release, CDCR will provide a release memo to the county jail with reporting instructions for the releasing person to report to the nearest parole office for post-release assignment.

Since April 2020, CDCR has collaborated with county jails to begin the release process for people who are within 45 days of the end of their sentence, to ensure they are not held beyond their mandated incarceration period. Beginning October 1, 2020, the process will be as follows:

  • For people in county jail who are within two years of release, jail staff will send relevant documents to CDCR, including court judgements, plea agreements, charging documents and probation reports.
    • In order to be eligible to receive the PPC, the individual must:
      • Have been sentenced on or before July 5, 2020;
      • Have less than two years remaining on their sentence;
      • Not be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole or condemned; and
      • Have not received a serious rules violation report between March 1, 2020 and July 5, 2020.
    • Jail staff will also send CDCR written verification when an individual has received a serious rules violation between March 1, 2020 and July 5, 2020.
      1. Serious rules violations include but are not limited to murder, rape, battery, assault, arson, escape, possession/distribution of contraband, possession of a cellphone, and gang activity. Details of such offenses can be found in Title 15.
  • Once the documents have been received, CDCR will update its records, assign a CDCR identification number to the individual, and calculate their release date. The release date will be sent to the county jail to be provided to the individual.
  • If the calculated release date is within 7 to 14 days, CDCR will provide a release memo to the county jail with the release date and instructions to report  to the nearest Parole Unit for processing of release plans and to determine the applicable supervision entity- State Parole or Post Release Community Supervision.
  • For those individuals whose documents have already been sent to CDCR, Case Records Services staff will contact jails directly regarding people who are within two years of release, requesting verification of any serious rules violation between March 1, 2020 and July 5, 2020.
  • Frequently asked questions for friends and loved ones of people housed in county jail are available here.

High-Risk Medical

CDCR estimates that nearly 108,000 people will be eligible for PPC. Of these, about 2,100 would advance to the point they are eligible for release by end of July.

Individuals deemed “high risk” are considered to be at greater risk for morbidity and mortality should they contract COVID-19. They include people over age 65 who have chronic conditions, or those with respiratory illnesses such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In order to be eligible, incarcerated persons must meet the following criteria:

  • Deemed high risk for COVID-19 complications by CCHCS
  • Not serving LWOP or condemned
  • Have an assessment indicating a low risk for violence
  • No high-risk sex offenders (HRSO)
    • HRSO indicates a convicted sex offender who is required to register pursuant to Penal Code Section 290, and has been identified to pose a higher risk to commit a new sex offense in the community, as determined using a standard risk assessment tools for sex offenders.

Based on individual review of each incarcerated person’s risk factors, an estimated number of releases in this cohort is not available.

Additional release efforts

CDCR is reviewing potential release protocols for incarcerated persons who are in hospice, as they are considered at high risk for COVID-19 complications. Everybody will be reviewed based on both their current health risk and risk to public safety.

The Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) is requesting that transcripts be expedited under the terms of its contract with its transcription vendor. All of BPH’s and the Governor’s review processes remain the same; they are merely condensing the time frames as much as possible based on available staffing levels.

What precautions are in place for releases during the pandemic?

Testing and release protocols for expedited releases will be as follows:

  • Patients who are in isolation due to active contagious COVID-19 infection
    • These patients shall remain isolated and will not have their release date expedited until their case is resolved
      • A case is considered “resolved” once the patient meets criteria for release from isolation, including:
        • At least 5 days after resolution of fever without antipyretic AND
        • At least 14 days (minimum) from initial positive test date AND
        • Improvement in symptoms
  • Patients who were diagnosed with COVID-19 within the past 12 weeks and are now resolved (no longer contagious) shall be released without additional testing or recommendations to quarantine, but are expected to follow any shelter-in-place orders in place in the receiving county.
  • Patients who are in quarantine due to being exposed to COVID-19 will be offered testing no more than seven days before release.
    • Those who test positive will be isolated and will not have their release date expedited until their case is resolved.
    • Those who test negative will have their release expedited but will be referred to Project Hope with a medical recommendation for a 14-day quarantine regardless of the time spend in quarantine while in custody.
      • Project Hope is a voluntary state initiative which allows people releasing from prison to finish their medically directed quarantine in a hotel room at no cost to their participant, including food and safe transportation to the hotel. Learn more here.
      • All inmates with a need to quarantine will be referred to Project Hope first; however, on a case-by-case basis some may be permitted to release to a personal residence, provided that residence is approved by parole or probation prior to release. If the residence is not approved, the inmate will be referred to Project Hope.
      • If an inmate refuses Project Hope and does not have an approved residence where they can quarantine, they will remain in custody while they complete their 14 day quarantine period, at which time if they are asymptomatic they will be released with no further recommendations to quarantine.
      • Inmates who are releasing to quarantine status in the community will not be permitted to use public transportation upon release, but can arrange for transport via family and friends, CDCR, or other approved entities. All transporting releases to quarantine will be instructed to use appropriate precautions during transport, including practicing physical distancing. Masks and appropriate PPE will be provided as necessary.
  • People who are neither resolved nor in quarantine will be offered testing no more than seven days before release.
    • Those who test negative will be released with no recommendations to quarantine
    • Those who test positive will be isolated and will not have their release date expedited until their case is resolved.
    • Those who refuse testing will be quarantined for 14 days at which time if they are asymptomatic they shall be released with no recommendations to quarantine

Testing and release protocols for those who are releasing on their natural release date:

  •  CDCR has no authority to hold these individuals beyond their release date regardless of whether they agree to test or based upon the results of the test.
  • All releases will wear a cloth face covering when exiting the institution and will take with them the additional face coverings issued to them while incarcerated.
  • All those being released shall be provided COVID-19 educational information, including how to check for symptoms, how to quarantine/isolate if necessary, and contact information for local health departments.
  • Patients who are in isolation due to active contagious COVID-19 infection shall be released with notification being made to the local health department and referral to Project Hope
    • Patients who are released with active COVID-19 shall not be placed on public transport, but can arrange for transport via family and friends, CDCR, or other approved entities. Anybody providing transport will be instructed to use appropriate precautions, including practicing physical distancing. Masks and appropriate PPE will be provided as necessary.
  • Patients who were diagnosed with COVID-19 within the past 12 weeks and are now resolved (no longer contagious) shall be released without additional testing or recommendations to quarantine, but are expected to follow any shelter-in-place orders in place in the receiving county.
    • A case is considered “resolved” once the patient meets criteria for release from isolation, including:
      • At least 5 days after resolution of fever without antipyretic AND
      • At least 14 days (minimum) from initial positive test date AND
      • Improvement in symptoms
  • Patients who are in quarantine due to being exposed to COVID-19 will be offered testing no more than seven days before release.
    • All patients, regardless of test results, shall be released.
    • Those who test negative shall be released but will be referred to Project Hope with a medical recommendation for a 14-day quarantine regardless of the time spend in quarantine while in custody.
    • Those who test positive shall be released with notification being made to the local health department and referral to Project Hope
    • Inmates who are releasing to quarantine status in the community will not be permitted to use public transportation upon release, but can arrange for transport via family and friends, CDCR, or other approved entities. All providing transport will be instructed to use appropriate precautions during transport, including practicing physical distancing. Masks and appropriate PPE will be provided as necessary.
  • People who are neither resolved nor in quarantine will be offered testing no more than seven days before release.
    • Those who test negative will be released with no recommendations to quarantine
    • Those who test negative shall be released
    • Those who test positive shall be released with notification being made to the local health department and referral to Project Hope

Can CDCR mandate quarantine/isolation? 

DAPO is not authorized to mandate a quarantine as a special condition of parole because it does not relate to criminal conduct or future criminality (People v. Lent, 1975). All parolees are expected and encouraged to abide by the requirements in their county of release.

Are you putting positive or quarantined patients on public transportation?

We are not putting any incarcerated person who is paroling on their natural release date and who is identified as on quarantine or isolation status on public transportation. For these patients, we are coordinating between state parole, county probation, and community-based organizations (CBOs) for transportation of these patients to their identified release location. Incarcerated people may also be picked up at their own discretion by family and friends. Each institution’s public health nursing staff are educating the population on what to do upon their release, how to protect their family, and how they can receive medical care in the community if they need it.

Who else is notified of these releases?

All required notifications will be made to local public health departments to notify them of people releasing with active COVID-19 and those who are being released while on quarantine. The public health nurse (PHN) at the institution is responsible for the case management for each of these patients, which includes discharge notification.

All releases require specific notifications to the Division of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO), and/or their county probation department before the individual is released.

All victim notifications will be made in accordance with all normal CDCR procedures and state law.

Reentry Resources

The department is also using a $15 million allocation of funds from Board of State and Community Corrections to expand existing contracts with community reentry programs for increased bed space. http://www.bscc.ca.gov/news/bscc-approves-covid-funds-to-help-house-up-to-8000-leaving-cdcr/

What else are CDCR and CCHCS doing to fight COVID-19?

  • CDCR is requiring testing of all adult institutions operations and health care staff statewide, regardless of number of COVID-19 cases. Baseline testing at all institutions is planned to be completed by July 16. Serial testing of employees will occur at institutions who have positive test results every 14 days until no new cases are identified in two sequential rounds of testing; the facility may then resume their regular surveillance testing schedule.
  • CCHCS is conducting surveillance testing of incarcerated individuals at all adult institutions. Surveillance testing is used to detect outbreaks in an early phase, even before the development of symptoms. This voluntary testing will be performed across multiple facilities at each institution each month. Priority will be given to asymptomatic individuals who have been identified as vulnerable or high-risk for complications of COVID-19. 
  • Reducing CDCR’s population in its institution by more than 10,000 since mid-March through the suspension of county jail intake, as well as the expedited release of approximately 3,500 incarcerated persons in April
  • Mandatory verbal and temperature screenings for staff before they enter any institutions and other CDCR work sites
  • Suspension of visitation, volunteers, and group programming
  • Suspension of movement within and between institutions, other than for critical purposes
  • Activating every institution’s Incident Command Post, regardless of COVID-19 status at the prison, jointly commanded by custody and health care staff to prepare for an outbreak, including identifying quarantine/isolation space, planning for continued operations in the events of staff shortages, and procuring adequate Personal Protective Equipment for inmates and staff.
  • Measures to support increased physical distancing, including reducing the number of people who use common spaces at the same time, transferring people out of lower level dorms to celled housing, and erecting tents to create alternate housing and care sites
  • Reinforced commitment to hygiene, both institutional and personal, including greater availability of soap and hand sanitizer.
  • Developing comprehensive health care guidelines based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and California Department of Public Health recommendations for correctional settings, which include procedures for infection control, assessment, testing, treatment, proper use of Personal Protective Equipment and quarantine/isolation.
  • Providing educational materials to all staff and incarcerated people, including posters, quick reference pocket guides, webinars, and educational videos.

For more information on CDCR’s efforts to protect staff and inmates from COVID-19, visit www.cdcr.ca.gov/covid19.