No mass prison release for now as federal panel says it can’t rule on coronavirus case

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California State Prison in Lancaster, where eight inmates are ill with COVID-19. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via the Los Angeles Times)

California State Prison in Lancaster, where eight inmates are ill with COVID-19. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via the Los Angeles Times)

A federal court panel has denied an emergency motion to force California prison officials to move thousands of inmates out of harm’s way even as the number of prison workers and inmates testing positive for COVID-19 rises.

“We are living in unprecedented times. The spread of COVID-19 is a global crisis, a crisis that is heightened in the most vulnerable groups among us,” the 13-page ruling begins. But in the end, the deciding judges wrote, the decision on whether to require mass prison releases and other measures is not theirs to make.

The number of prison infections grew in the two days since the judges held a hearing on the emergency motion. By Saturday, 60 people in the prisons, including 47 workers and 13 inmates, were diagnosed with COVID-19. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said eight inmates are ill at the state prison in Lancaster, four prisoners are infected at the California Institution for Men in Chino, and one at North Kern State Prison.

The request by prisoners’ attorneys for mass releases is “understandable,” and inmates have an Eighth Amendment right to be protected from disease, the ruling states. But the three judges on the special panel ruled that dealing with a pandemic is beyond its authority.

Read the full story on LATimes.com.

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