A surge in COVID-19 cases at a Central Valley prison for men is now the largest active outbreak in the California prison system, according to state data.
Nearly 1,000 inmates at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in Corcoran have active cases of the virus — nearly all reported within the last two weeks. Three inmates at the facility have also died from COVID-19 complications. Advocates for incarcerated people say the prison’s layout and overcrowding have made it easy for the virus to spread.
"They're living in big rooms with a bunch of other people,” said Sophie Hart, a staff attorney with Berkeley-based Prison Law Office. “You can't stay 6 feet apart from everyone else, and even if you could, you're breathing the same air, using the same toilets and showers. And as soon as there's one positive person in a dorm like that, it spreads.”
The prison is also overcrowded. At roughly 130% capacity with 4,442 men housed there, according to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation data, the facility is well over the number of inmates it was designed to handle. About 22% of those inmates have active cases of COVID-19.
"They don't have the space to take the action they need to take, which would be to separate everybody, and not leave them quarantining in dorms,” Hart said. “It’s too overcrowded for them to do that.”
In a statement, CDCR spokeswoman Dana Simas said that masks have been issued to all incarcerated people and staff. She said that space has been identified for inmates to isolate and additional staff have been sent to the prison to assist with screening. About 64% of the population has also been tested in the last 14 days.
But inmate advocates say prison officials haven’t released inmates fast enough to reduce the spread. Since June, California prison officials have released thousands of inmates early. But those population reduction efforts have slowed down in the past few months. From October to November, 437 people were released, compared to 4,421 released between July and August, according to attorneys with the Prison Law Office.