The #StopSanQuentinOutbreak coalition came together in June 2020 after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) transferred over 100 individuals from a known COVID-19 hotspot to San Quentin State Prison, causing what soon became the biggest coronavirus outbreak in the nation to date. Organizers, loved ones, and several social justice organizations came together to amplify the demands of our currently incarcerated community members at San Quentin.
We continue to demand large-scale releases (without categorical exclusions based on conviction or sentence) across all California state prisons, jails, and ICE detention centers. Decarceration remains the only public health solution to this global pandemic inside and beyond prison walls.
Demands from the Incarcerated Community at San Quentin Prison
It is impossible to ensure the safety of incarcerated people living in prisons that are operating well-above the capacity they were designed to house. Therefore we demand:
1. Governor Newsom and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) must grant large-scale releases and begin the process of drastically reducing the overall prison population to below 50% of current capacity. Following the recommendations of Healthcare Quality issued by Amend. In order to achieve this level of decarceration, Governor Newsom must grant releases without categorical exclusions based on crimes of conviction.
2. CDCR must STOP transferring incarcerated individuals from one CA prison to another. Current harm prevention methods have failed, and any further transfers will undoubtedly lead to the spread of the virus and the creation of new prison “hot spots.”
3. Additionally, Governor Newsom and the CDCR must STOP notification and transfers between CDCR and ICE for immigrants who have completed their time.
4. Ongoing and adequate testing must be provided to 100% of incarcerated people and prison staff now through the end of the pandemic. When administering COVID-19 tests, staff must take care to properly sanitize all equipment and change gloves between tests.
5. Prison staff and Correctional Officers must be regulated to working and moving in only one part of the prison, to avoid actively spreading the virus across the prison.
6. COVID-19 has forced CDCR to shut down all in-prison programming. CDCR must adapt credit-earning opportunities during the pandemic to allow incarcerated people to participate in distance programming and work toward accelerating their release date.
7. CDCR must provide personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitizer, hygiene products, and other essential goods (stamps, envelopes, food) free of charge, now through the end of the pandemic.
8. We demand email access, tele-visiting privileges, and expanded phone access free of charge now through the duration of the pandemic.
All visiting has been suspended since March 2020, cutting off contact between incarcerated people and their families and communities. As we know, ongoing connections with outside community and family members is an essential support system to incarcerated people and their loved ones during these times and always.
We approach our work with the understanding that prisons do not keep us safe. We demand large-scale releases from prisons, jails, and detention centers, closing carceral institutions, and safer conditions for incarcerated folks.
We recognize that transgender incarcerated folks are at disproportionate risk of harm and violence in prisons, and thus seek to work with trans, intersex, non-binary, and gender queer incarcerated and formerly incarcerated community to understand their specific needs during COVID-19 and to ensure they are being urgently considered for releases.
We also recognize the specific needs of incarcerated folks who are on Death Row, as a majority of the people who have died from COVID-19 in San Quentin State Prison were from this community. We demand releases throughout the system, including folks on Death Row and serving LWOP sentences.
We challenge the false binary of non-violent vs. violent convictions, which deems the majority of incarcerated people, including many of our loved ones, undeserving of humanity and freedom. Advocacy with categorical exclusions creates harmful binaries that are not grounded in our collective goal of community safety and equity.
We do not offer solutions or advocacy strategies that expand the carceral system. Alternatives to mass releases such as house arrest, temporary release, or transfers to new or re-opened facilities, etc. should not be regarded as solutions because they expand systems of surveillance and incarceration.