Frequently Asked Questions for Plan on Expedited Release and Increased Physical Space within State Prisons

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*Note: All eligible releases have been completed as of April 13. All releases since that date are those who have served their full sentence as determined by the law, CDCR cannot hold anyone past their scheduled release date.

Why are you releasing inmates?

CDCR is amplifying actions to protect staff and inmates at the state’s institutions by implementing additional measures to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The measures will increase both capacity and physical space at the state’s prisons, which will allow the department to increase physical distancing, and assist it with isolation and quarantine efforts for suspected or positive COVID-19 cases.

California is taking aggressive and unprecedented steps to confront this crisis, including suspending intake from county jails for 30 to 60 days and transitioning nearly 3,500 non-violent inmates to parole and PRCS within the next few weeks, together freeing-up nearly 6,500 beds total over the next several weeks.

In addition to the transfer suspension and the expedited release of non-violent inmates to parole and PRCS, approximately 480-530 inmates living in dorms will be transferred to other prisons with unoccupied buildings or space available. This is meant to increase physical distancing space for those housed in dorm settings.

Who are you releasing? And how many?

Effective immediately, individuals within 60 days of their earliest possible release date, who are not currently serving a sentence for a violent offense, a person required to register under PC 290 (sex offenses), a person serving a sentence for a domestic violence conviction, or those who have been granted parole under the jurisdictional review of the Board of Parole Hearings, will be eligible for review for expedited release. This is inclusive of those due to be released to state parole supervision, post-release community supervision, and those who will discharge without required post-release supervision.

*A non-violent inmate is an inmate not serving a term of incarceration for a violent felony offense as defined by PC 667.5 subdivision (c). CDCR has excluded people serving a sentence for domestic violence, which is not outlined in PC667.5 (c)

CDCR anticipates that up to approximately 3,500 incarcerated persons would be initially eligible under these guidelines.

Does that include offenders with high-risk physical or mental health care needs?

The review of offenders eligible for potential expedited release include all health care and mental health populations (e.g., individuals with skilled nursing facility needs, enhanced outpatient or mental health crisis-bed level of mental health care). CDCR’s health care and parole professionals will work with community partners to ensure those released have the services they need to stay safe and healthy.

What’s the normal release process?

Typically, these steps occur within 30-60 days of an offender’s expected release date:

  • An audit of all legal and commitment documents;
  • Verification of release date calculation and check for current warrants through the California Law Enforcement Telecommunication System;
  • Coordination of potential warrants through local jurisdictions allowing release or transfer to county jails;
  • Notification of sentence discrepancies to the local court and opportunity for review, which may ultimately change an individual’s release date;
  • Supply any necessary notifications to local jurisdictions or victims before release; and,
  • Complete necessary administrative paperwork triggering the formalization of the release process.
  • Health care screening

How are you going to expedite it?

The Department anticipates on-site strike teams to lead the pre-release coordination. These teams will include institutional custody, classification, case records, health care, statewide transportation, and parole representatives. These strike teams will receive three individual cohorts of 30-day releases to implement the local operational plans necessary (e.g., final record reviews, release, coordinating transportation) to coincide with the release timelines.

In order to expedite this entire process, staff will be allowed to earn overtime to accomplish the necessary tasks to cover all releases.  Additionally, the department anticipates shifting some heavier institutional workload across the state system to avoid disparity in workload impacts and have all institutions share equally in the pre-release workload.

When do you expect releases to start?

The Department estimates that each 30-day cohort will take approximately five calendar days of internal operational work based upon the detail provided below. CDCR does not have an expected start date but is working as quickly as possible to immediately implement this plan.

How are you going to determine who goes out first?

Review of potential expedited release will first focus on those with less than 30 days to serve, then those with less than 60 days to serve.

Are you going to be releasing people with positive COVID-19 tests or who are under current isolation/quarantine for COVID-19?

CDCR is following current CDC and CDPH guidelines for testing. Immediately before release, all inmates are screened for symptoms of influenza-like illness (lLl) including COVID-l9. The screening includes asking an individual if they have a cough, fever and/or difficulty breathing, and taking their temperature. Based on the screening questions, temperature reading, and health care staff’s clinical judgement, the individual will either be released or held for further observation, but ultimately the department does not have the authority to hold inmates past their scheduled release date. Should an inmate with a positive COVID-19 test be scheduled for release, CDCR will work closely with community partners relative to the release.

How are you going to work with county probation offices?

We are working closely with probation departments, along with county sheriffs and all law enforcement partners, to ensure open lines of communication to immediately address issues as they arise. We will be notifying all probation departments of any release date changes.

It is anticipated that nearly two-thirds of those eligible for expedited release will be under county probation supervision and may need assistance finding reentry housing. Local governments are being encouraged to take advantage of Governor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order, which provides nearly $150 million to local governments to provide emergency shelter for homeless people or individuals at-risk of becoming homeless. 

How does this impact parole operations?

Parole staff play a critical role in the bridge of parolees to the community.  Parole anticipates creating local office and headquarters strike teams, each with a specific subset of pre-release activities.  Local parole staff will immediately work with the release cohorts to finalize all parole plans including identification of individuals needing critical services upon release.  Headquarters parole staff in coordination with the Division of Rehabilitative Programs (DRP) will focus on placement coordination and mitigation of local issues.  Some of the most critical functions required of parole for the releasing population will focus on:

  • Direct parolee placements into community-based licensed residential treatment or reentry and recovery housing programs. Although Departmental community programs are typically designed for parolees with substance use disorders, for this release cohort the available community capacity will be leveraged for individual parolees at risk of homelessness or who have housing instability;
  • Complete benefit application packages to ensure each release (parole and probation) has completed and submitted a benefit application to all applicable agencies (e.g., Supplemental Security Income, Medi-Cal, Veterans Assistance);
  • Coordination on completion of the California Identification Card (Cal-ID) applications not already completed.;

Are you notifying victims?

Registered victims of offenders scheduled to be released within the next 30 days have been completed. The department is currently notifying victims of offenders who are in the 60-day cohort of expedited releases. No person in this cohort will be released without proper victim notification being made.

How are you going to ensure services when community services are shut down?

CDCR is seeking to maximize placements into community-based reentry programs, particularly for those at risk of homelessness or housing instability, through authorizing increases in various community-based contracts already in place. The department will be offering existing contractors additional funding for increased capacity and sub-contracted services.

CDCR contractually requires all providers to incorporate the same principles and approaches as its in-prison programs to ensure their policies and procedures are gender-responsive, culturally competent and trauma-informed. Contract providers must demonstrate that their programs include these elements and that they are being followed. CDCR conducts periodic on-site reviews that include verification of program delivery consistent with contractual requirements.

How will you ensure people get to their destinations?

In addition to the staggered release approach to minimize transportation concerns and high numbers of releases to certain counties, the department is taking the following approach.

First, the department will query the releasing population for those who have someone available to pick them up from their local institution as the first available option.  Second, for those without coordinated transportation plans or for plans that do not come to fruition, CDCR will coordinate delivery of individuals to public transportation, extra steps will be taken if local public transit is closed, including coordinating with community reentry partners.  For more complex, compromised, or vulnerable populations, statewide transportation will be coordinated to drop individuals off in their counties of last legal residence.

Additionally, during the COVID-19 epidemic, CDCR has been working with Amtrak to provide additional support.  Although many stations and lobbies will be closing, individuals who are released from prisons often rely on locomotive transportation to get to their county of last legal residence. Those needing this form of transportation will receive a flyer in their release package allowing them to ride the train to their destination regardless of whether they have release funds available.

Finally, for individuals referred and placed into parolee programs under authority of contracts held in DRP, the Department anticipates offering increases in reimbursement rates for main and
sub-contractors willing to coordinate transportation and alleviate state resources.

How long will people be able to take advantage of these services?

Once at-risk of homelessness or housing instability placements are made into community-based parolee programs, the Department anticipates being able to fund approximately five months of reentry and recovery services for the increased number of offenders in community reentry programs.

Why aren’t you transferring people to the contract facilities?

On Monday, March 30, 2020, CDCR requested to the GEO Group to delay the termination of operational activities at Golden State Modified Community Correctional Facility (GSMCCF) to at least June 30, 2020. This delay provides CDCR more flexibility to provide better physical distancing for our population.

As of March 30, the facility had 219 inmates and 464 vacant beds. CDCR does not currently have a timeline for if/when, those vacant contract beds will be utilized. Initially, inmates will be safely moved to vacant housing units identified throughout the state to allow for physical distancing in dorm settings.  

What other steps have you taken to address COVID-19?

These new measures build on many others already taken to reduce the risk of COVID-19 to all who work and live in the state prison system. Those measures include:

  • Mandatory verbal and temperature screenings at institutions and work sites.
  • Governor Newsom’s Executive Order suspending adult and youth intake from county jails for a minimum of 30 days, potentially reducing our population by approximately 3,000 in one month. Prior to suspending intake, CDCR quarantined all Reception Center inmates for 14 days to ensure incoming inmates were not symptomatic.
  • On March 11, CDCR suspended normal visiting
  • On March 16, CDCR suspended family visiting
  • On March 17, CDCR suspended access to institutions by volunteers and rehabilitative program providers. Also suspended all transfers of out-of-state parolees or inmates to California.
  • On March 19, incarcerated movement was restricted to only essential movement under the following scenarios:
    • Removal from restricted housing units
    • Transfer from reception centers after being assessed by medical and other staff
    • To/from mental health crisis beds
    • To Conservation Camps
    • To Male Community Reentry Program, Custody to Community Transitional Reentry Program, Alternative Custody Program, and Health Care Placement Oversight Program
    • Modified Community Correctional Facilities due to deactivation efforts
    • Ordered court appearances
  • On March 24, transfers into MCRP, CCTRP, ACP were suspended through April 6, and transfers to Conservation Camps suspended were until further notice
  • On March 29, CALPIA hand sanitizer that meets CDC guidelines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 began arriving at the institutions for both staff and incarcerated population use.
  • Developed comprehensive health care guidelines based on CDC and CDPH recommendations for correctional settings, which includes procedures for infection control, assessment, testing, treatment, proper use of PPE and quarantine/isolation. Deployed educational materials for staff on the new guidelines, including posters, quick reference pocket guides, webinars and websites.
  • Modified the delivery of non-emergent health care procedures such as routine dentals cleanings to redirect supplies of PPE. Created a network among all state-managed facilities to redirect PPE as needed.
  • Created several handouts, posters and continually updated video messaging for the population about COVID-19 and what CDCR and CCHCS is doing to respond to the virus.