San Quentin State Prison Response

Updated Aug. 12, 2020

CDCR and CCHCS are taking comprehensive actions to fight the outbreak of COVID-19 at San Quentin State Prison. Since the coronavirus pandemic hit our community, the department has worked tirelessly to implement measures to protect staff, the incarcerated population, and the community at-large, which have been made in partnership with the Federal Receiver, and based on public health input and guidance.

This includes the biggest reduction in prison population in recent history which has been done in a manner consistent with public safety, and for the health and safety of the population and our staff.

The department has reduced the overall incarcerated population by more than 17,327 inmates since March through an expedited transition to parole of 3,500 incarcerated persons in April, a suspension of intake from county jails since March, and an additional series or release actions to further decompress the population and maximize space for physical distancing, and isolation/quarantine efforts.

Unified Command

A unified command center has been established at the prison to coordinate custody and medical response to COVID-19 cases. The team is composed of medical, custody, emergency management and infectious disease experts from CDCR, California Correctional Health Care Services, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, Emergency Medical Services Authority, California Department of Public Health, and Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Cal OES has established an Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) at San Quentin to support healthcare and medical response and coordinate operational logistics at the facility amongst local, state and federal agencies.

An ambulance strike team from EMSA has been established at San Quentin to facilitate the rapid transfer of patients to outside healthcare settings if needed.

Alternate Care Sites/Quarantine and Isolation Spaces

Those being placed into segregated housing due to COVID-19 are not being moved for punitive reasons, they are moved in order to prevent further spread of the Covid-19 virus in the affected unit.

Patients on isolation are screened twice a day by health care staff. Prescriptions are written based on public health guidance and our comprehensive treatment protocols, which can be read here.

The prison has installed a large air-conditioned tent structure with a capacity to treat 164 patients that is being used to treat COVID-19 inmate patients on-grounds, and to open up space in certain areas of the prison to allow for increased physical distancing, quarantine, and isolation.

SQ had also repurposed the on-ground chapel to house incarcerated persons who were positive with COVID-19 but are asymptomatic. This temporary facility has been deactivated after a significant reduction in positive cases eliminated the need to continue to house patients in this area.

To reduce the impact of SQ’s COVID-19 outbreak on outside health care facilities, the department repurposed the on-site California Prison Industry Authority furniture facility into an alternative care site (ACS) to treat COVID-19 positive patients at the institution. There are currently 110 beds for patients who are symptomatic who are receiving medical care on-site. There are also 140 beds which are housing positive COVID-19 patients who are asymptomatic who are receiving health care screenings to immediately identify anyone with new or worsening symptoms.

Below are photos from inside the ACS as of July 9, 2020

Inside of the alternative care site with blue foldable beds spread apart in a large room
Inside of the alternative care site(ACS) with black foldable beds spread apart in a large room

Personal Protective Equipment

All staff entering the institution are being provided N95 masks that are mandated to be worn while performing duties on institution grounds.

Ten of thousands of additional pieces of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) have been sent to San Quentin and distributed to both inmates and staff and strict guidelines have been provided mandating their use while on institution grounds.

The incarcerated population are being provided N95 masks for voluntary use. Those identified as incarcerated critical workers are required to wear N95s while performing duties on institutional grounds.

Additionally, all incarcerated persons have been provided five reusable cloth barrier masks.


For current testing data for San Quentin, please see the Patient Tracker.

San Quentin is offering testing every seven days to the incarcerated population who have previously tested negative or who have refused a test in the past. We have provided the population with printed and verbal education on the importance of testing and how they can help protect themselves and others.

Mandatory staff testing is taking place at SQ every 14 days, as recommended by California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and California Health and Human Services Agency.

Physical distancing, cleaning, dining, and transfers

CDCR has halted the transfer of any inmates into or out of San Quentin and any state prison except for emergencies.

Sanitation and hygiene practices, including the availability of cleaning supplies to the incarcerated population, are being monitored and enforced.

Supplies are given out on a weekly basis, including cleaning/disinfecting supplies and personal protective equipment. Additional hand sanitizer refills are available upon request.

All custody have been trained on proper use of PPE when interacting with positive and symptomatic people, either while escorting medical staff or working in housing units. Staff disinfect their equipment prior to coming on shift and during the day if contact occurs.

San Quentin contracted with an outside vendor for a one-time deep cleaning that began July 23 and occurred over four days. Cleaners covered much of the prison’s 593,637-square-foot interior, including disinfection of all hard surfaces, electrostatic spraying of unoccupied cells as well removal and proper disposal of soiled linens and bio-hazard material. 

Housing units are limited to interacting only with one another. Showers are disinfected after each group has showered (for example, there are five shower heads. Five people shower and then the shower area is cleaned). Once showers are over for the day, they are disinfected one more time.


In an effort to fully support San Quentin State Prison’s operations, CDCR has solicited correctional and health care staff from other institutions to fill behind vacant posts.

Additional staffing resources are being redirected to SQ to offer immediate assistance with operations and health care. In July, more than 200 correctional officers and 20 sergeants from other institutions were redirected to help with custody operations.

More than 40 nursing staff from CCHCS have been redirected from other institutions and headquarters.

The assignment will be in 30-day increments, with lodging provided by the state.

The increased staff resources greatly contributed to the institution’s ability to assign staff to specific areas on a consistent basis and limit staff movement between housing units.

In coordination with California Department of Public Health, CDCR developed a staff testing plan for those who have been redirected to an institution due to a COVID-19 outbreak. The plan includes a quarantine period between the last day worked at the prison experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak and initial testing, outlines use of telework and administrative time-off while in quarantine and between testing results, and health and safety protocols immediately after the return to their home institution.

Mail, phones and yard

In an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at San Quentin State Prison, the institution has worked closely with the California Department of Public Health to implement several measures to further protect staff and incarcerated persons.

There has been no change to the mail program. Mail is picked up every day except Friday night and Saturday night. Legal mail is delivered cell front and taken cell front.

Other changes to institution operations include limiting showers to cell partners only and continued sanitation and disinfecting between use. Canteen, packages, and medication will be delivered to the incarcerated population directly to their cell or living area. Those identified as critical workers in health care facilities cleaning, canteen, and other identified areas will be screened by health care staff before being released to their work assignment, and will be provided daily showers at the end of their shift.

Beginning July 24, inmates defined as resolved will be given the opportunity to participate in outdoor recreational yard program. There are currently more than 2,000 inmates with resolved cases of COVID-19 within the institution. The maximum amount of inmates participating in the program at a time will be limited and provided in staggered schedules.

During scheduled yard time, inmates may go outside to the yard, sign up for phones, and/or take showers.

Indoor dayroom activities will remain canceled until further notice as will outdoor recreational activities that involve close contact is restricted out of an abundance of caution.

The yard schedule will rotate every other day to allow ample time for deep cleanings of indoor and outdoor recreational areas. Inmates will be screened before yard and hand sanitizer will be provided. Staff will ensure sanitizing/cleaning is completed on highly-touched surfaces and areas before and after each yard session.

Inmates are required to wear masks during the program and adhere to physical distancing guidelines.


To reduce crowding and promote better physical distancing, San Quentin State Prison’s inmate population has been reduced from 4,051 in March to 3,129 on Aug. 12. This reduction has been accomplished through the suspension of intake from county jails, expedited releases and natural releases from the prison.

All incarcerated persons being released from SQ are offered placement into Project Hope in the community, which is a partnership between CDCR, the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) and Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide hotel rooms at no-cost to those releasing to the community with a need to quarantine or isolate. Transportation to Project Hope accommodations is provided by CDCR. For those releasing to probation supervision with a need to quarantine or isolate, CDCR is working with its probation partners to find accommodations via local programs. COVID-19 educational information is provided to all releasing inmates regardless of status and cloth face coverings upon exiting the institution.

Under Secretary Diaz’s authority, CDCR has begun expediting the release to parole or probation supervision of qualifying inmates with 180 days or less left on their sentence.

These inmates undergo a risk assessment, a medical screening and have a parole plan in place. Eligible inmates with high-risk medical conditions will be also considered for the expedited release.

More information on CDCR’s efforts and the expedited release overview can be found on