February 1, 2021
Don Thompson, NBCLA
California prison officials wanted to shield inmates from the coronavirus at one facility by transferring them to another but instead unleashed a “public health disaster” that led to thousands of prisoners being infected and 28 dying, along with a correctional officer, the state inspector general said Monday.
The report provided new details on last spring’s catastrophic decision to move inmates from the California Institution for Men east of Los Angeles to San Quentin State Prison north of San Francisco. The inmates were put onto buses for the more than 400-mile trip and the tight quarters increased the risk of infections spreading. The inspector general found that pressure to meet self-imposed deadlines led authorities to ignore warnings from health officials, and outdated tests failed to detect that some of the transferred inmates already were infected. Numerous officials with the state corrections department and the office of the federal court-appointed receiver who oversees prison medical care knew the tests were too old to be valid, according to the report. Yet emails show a health care executive at the Southern California prison “explicitly ordered that the incarcerated persons not be retested the day before the transfers began.” Preparations for the moves at the headquarters level “were deeply flawed and risked the health and lives of thousands of incarcerated persons and staff,” said the report by Inspector General Roy Wesley. Democratic Assemblyman Marc Levine, who represents San Quentin, said the report “is maddening in the scope and scale” of officials’ “fundamental failures.” He again called for the firing of federal receiver J. Clark Kelso, saying his office “knew it was risking a public health disaster.”
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