At least 15 people incarcerated at California’s oldest prison have died since June from apparent Covid-19-related complications amid a growing coronavirus outbreak at the facility, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
John Beames, 67, is the latest inmate to die at San Quentin State Prison. He was pronounced dead at a hospital on Tuesday from what appeared to be complications related to Covid-19, the CDCR said in a news release. A coroner will determine the exact cause of death.
Beames is one of seven death row inmates who have died from apparent Covid-19 complications, the CDCR said. He had been on death row since November 1995, after being convicted of first-degree murder in the death of a 15-month-old child.
San Quentin, just north of San Francisco, has witnessed the worst coronavirus outbreak in California’s prison system. The facility reports 868 active cases and 15 deaths among its approximately 3,300 inmates. It has seen more than 2,000 infections.
Unlike some of the state’s other correctional facilities, San Quentin had escaped a coronavirus outbreak until several detainees from the California Institution for Men in Chino were transferred there in late May. Since then, cases have soared, CDCR data shows.
Approximately 7,200 coronavirus cases have hit California’s prison system since the start of the pandemic. There are more than 1,900 active cases, and about 5,000 incarcerated people have recovered, according to the CDCR.
California plans to release at least 8,000 inmates early
Prompted by the pandemic, California authorities started granting early release in March to prisoners who are serving terms for nonviolent crimes and are close to finishing their sentences. The state has reduced its incarcerated population by about 10,000 since the pandemic began, according to the CDCR.
As the coronavirus continued to spread through the prison system, California announced on July 10 that it would grant early release to an additional 8,000 incarcerated people. Those eligible are being screened and released on a rolling basis. More than half are expected to be released by the end of July.
The action will “maximize available space to implement physical distancing, isolation and quarantine efforts,” the CDCR said.
The July 10 decision to expedite the release of thousands of more prisoners came just days after authorities ousted the chief medical officer for California’s corrections system. Leadership overseeing medical care for the state’s prisons had faced criticism, including from Gov. Gavin Newsom, for authorizing the transfer of men from the Chino facility that had been battling an outbreak.
Newsom said earlier this month that the men who spread the virus to San Quentin after they were relocated from the California Institution for Men “should not have been transferred.”
“It is incredibly frustrating that we had one person make the decision to transfer a few patients from one prison, Chino, into San Quentin,” he said at a July 9 news conference. “That decision created a chain of events that we are now addressing and dealing with. I’m not here to sugarcoat that.”
Under California’s new measures, inmates who have fewer than 180 days left to serve on their sentences will be eligible for expedited parole, except for those serving sentences for domestic violence, a violent or serious crime, or registered sex offenders, state corrections officials said in a statement.
Those with 365 days or less to serve on their sentences can qualify for release under the same guidelines if they are housed in prison institutions with large populations of high-risk prisoners.
Prisoners who are age 30 and over and who meet the eligibility criteria are immediately eligible for release, the CDCR said. Those under age 30 are being reviewed for release on a case-by-case basis.