- An inmate transfer in California’s prison system caused a COVID-19 outbreak last year.
- The outbreak happened at San Quentin State Prison and led to 2,000 COVID-19 cases.
- The state’s inspector general called the incident a “public health disaster” in a new report.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
An inmate transfer organized by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation caused a COVID-19 outbreak at San Quentin State Prison that infected more than 2,000 inmates and killed 28 people, the state inspector general said in a report published on Monday.
The report detailed an incident that took place in May, during which the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation alongside the California Correctional Health Care Services (CCHCS) transferred 189 medically vulnerable inmates from the California Institution for Men to San Quentin State Prison and another state prison in Corcoran, California, about 225 miles southeast of the state capitol in Sacramento.
But the inmates were transferred without “proper safeguards” and officials rushed the process and “inadequately screened” inmates for COVID-19 symptoms, the report said.
According to the report, 172 of the 189 people transferred had not been tested for COVID-19 the two weeks prior to the transfer, and CCHCS approved an increase in capacity on buses that were moving the inmates, not allowing for proper social distancing measures.
When 122 of the transferred inmates arrived at San Quentin, the report says, the prison failed to isolate them to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19, and instead housed 119 of them in a unit with open-bar cells.
San Quentin, a prison of about 3,100 inmates, had no COVID-19 cases before the transfer.
But by August, 2,237 inmates at the prison and 277 staff members tested positive for COVID-19, and 27 inmates and one correctional officer died from the virus.
Corcoran, too, had an outbreak following the transfer, with 153 COVID-19 cases, but prison officials told KCRA that its cases were more contained because inmates were housed behind solid doors.
California’s inspector general called inmate transfers a “public health disaster.”
“Our review found the department’s efforts to prepare for and execute the transfers of 67 medically vulnerable incarcerated persons to California State Prison, Corcoran, and 122 to San Quentin State Prison were deeply flawed, and risked the health and lives of the medically vulnerable incarcerated persons whom the department was attempting to protect, as well as the staff transferring the incarcerated persons and those who worked at both prisons,” the inspector general said.
In a joint statement to Insider, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the CCHCS said “some mistakes were made in the process of these transfers,” and said they have since increased COVID-19 testing, quarantined more inmates, and increased the use of personal protective equipment.
“There were many many factors that contributed to the need to move medically high-risk individuals from CIM last May that are not reflected in this report,” the agencies added.
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