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California State Prison Inmate In Lancaster Tests Positive for Coronavirus, CDCR Considering Early Release

LANCASTER (CBSLA) — The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was considering early release after an inmate in Lancaster tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

"The patient is in stable condition and is being treated on-site," CDCR said in a statement released Sunday.

The patient, an inmate at California State Prison in Lancaster, has been in isolation since March 19 when he reported not feeling well. The agency said the patient was tested the following day and the results were received Sunday.

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Five state prison staff members have also tested positive — two each at the California Institution for Men in China and California State Prison in Sacramento and one other at Folsom State Prison.

"We are working to provide updated testing numbers on our website this week," the agency's statement said.

CDCR said it was restricting movement at the Lancaster prison while an investigation into how the inmate contracted the disease was completed. The department said those deemed at risk for the illness would be quarantined.

The announcement came one day after a state task force held discussions about how to handle California's incarcerated population during the pandemic.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller on Friday ordered the task force effort during a telephone status hearing, the Los Angeles Times reported. The hearing was for updates on prison mental health but instead dwelt almost entirely on COVID-19.

After a decade of sustained effort to reduce health-threatening overcrowding, California's prison system remains at 134% capacity, with more than 114,000 inmates in state prisons built to hold 85,000. Another 8,700 prisoners are in camps and contracted private lockups.

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And despite mounting pressure from civil liberties groups such as the ACLU and advocates for inmates, prison systems across the United States have resisted calls to reduce their COVID-19 threats by releasing prisoners.

Jail systems, however, have adopted such programs, including in Los Angeles county.

In an effort to decrease the population of county facilities, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva raised the bail amount for booking inmates to $50,000 from $25,000.

The department has also reduced the jail population by 6% as of March 20, in part to prepare for the need to set up quarantine areas.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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