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Six San Quentin Inmates Die Of COVID-19 Since Friday; State Prison Medical Oversight Shakeup

SAN RAFAEL (CBS SF) -- Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday getting a handle on the out-of-control COVID-19 outbreak at San Quentin state prison remains a 'top priority for our admininstration' and several remedies were being considered including the early parole of qualified inmates.

As of Monday, six San Quentin inmates have died during the COVID-19 outbreak. There were another 1,387 inmates listed as having an active COVID-19 infections and 13 infected inmates have been release.

Several dozen inmates have been transferred out of the prison for hospital treatment in nearby communities.

Since Friday, three death row inmates -- Dewayne Carey, Scott Erskine and Manuel Alvaarez -- have died of the virus and three inmates from the general population.

"We've been working on this every single day for the last three week," Newsom said. "When I say every single day -- yesterday, Saturday, Friday, Thursday -- There is no break, no holidays."

Newsom said the goal is to reduce the prison population to near 3,000 inmates "in the next few weeks." When asked about the transfer of prisoners from a COVID-19 outbreak at Chino to San Quentin, Newsom didn't mince words.

"In late May, we had prisoners transferred from one prison -- Chino -- into San Quentin," he said. "They should not have been transferred."

As a result of the outbreak, there were changes made to the structure of the federal receivership and managing health care at state prisons. J. Clark Kelso was appointed by a judge as a receiver to oversee medical care within the prisons in 2006. Now a state health care advisor has been added to the top of prison medical hierarchy.

"In order to support both the response efforts of the COVID-19 pandemic and to continue to move forward in delegating medical care back to state control, California Correctional Health Care Services is announcing leadership changes to ensure both crucial functions are maintained," officials said in a press release.

"We are in unprecedented times as we deal with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic," Kelso said. "In order to meet current response needs while also working toward further delegation of medical care back to state control, it has become evident that a
reorganization is necessary for long-term sustainability."

Dr. R. Steven Tharratt was named as special health care advisor to the receiver. Dr. Joseph Bick was named as the director, health care services and Vince Cullen will serve as drector, health care operations and corrections services.

"The receiver has made it clear in both public statements to the court and in testimony to the Senate Public Safety Committee last week that the transfers which took place in May, including the transfer from Chino to San Quentin, happened with our high-risk CIM population in mind before we were fully prepared," officialsa said in a news release. "In essence, we opened the transfer process too early, too quickly and without the necessary precautions in place."

As for reducing the San Quentin population, Newsom said he has been reviewing inmate cases individually to determine who should be released early.

"I'm going throuigh individual by individual," he said. "People with medical needs that are acute. People we are fast tracking to expedite the parole process."

But Newsom said whoever does received early parole must have a place to go once they walk out of the prison.

"You just don't want to send people out to park benches and homeless shelters," he said. "We have to make sure we responsibly move people out."

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