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State Prisons To Start Early Release Program To Combat COVID-19

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With more than 2,000 inmates sick with COVID-19 and 17 deaths, the state prison system is going to start releasing some inmates early to combat the virus' spread.

The program, set to begin July 1, is for inmates serving time for nonviolent crimes who have six months or less left on their sentence.They’ll have to prove they have a place to live outside of prison.

Inmates will remain under state supervision after their release, and will be tested for COVID-19 within seven days of leaving prison. If they test positive, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says it’ll work with state and local officials to find housing to isolate them.

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CDCR says it’s working up an estimate of how many inmates qualify for early release. The state prisons are about 20,000 people over capacity, according to the most recent data.

The early release program is a small improvement, said Kate Chatfield of the reform group the Justice Collaborative. But she says it won’t apply to enough people.

“It doesn't take into account people who are elderly, people who are particularly physically vulnerable.”

The CDCR has also reduced the inmate population through expedited parole for some prisoners and by limiting the intake of new inmates from county jails.

Still, Rep. Norma Torres (D-Pomona) said the CDCR has not provided her with information about the steps it's taking to fight the virus. Torres represents the area that includes the men's prison in Chino, where 15 inmates have died.

“I’m still waiting for them to answer my letter [from last month],” she said. “I understand they’re busy, but how do I know how to help them — what resources do they need — if they're not communicating with us?”

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