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Lawmakers Seek Answers As Coronavirus Surges In State Prisons

San Quentin State Prison. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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COVID-19 is spreading in the state prisons. Twenty-two inmates have died, along with two staff. There are currently more than 2,600 inmates with the virus.

That prompted a State Senate committee hearing in Sacramento today.

Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) wanted officials from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to tell her why so many prisoners are sick.

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"Was CDCR maintaining or mandating the same public health protocols that the state asked of the rest of us?" she asked.

Prison officials didn't directly answer the question. They said they've increased cleaning and provided masks, although numerous sources tell us some guards and inmates aren't wearing them.

More than 40% of the state prisoners with COVID-19 are at San Quentin.

Federal Receiver Clark Kelso said prison transfers, including from the California Institute for Men in Chino, played a part in San Quentin's outbreak:

"Twenty-five of the 122 transferees tested positive."

James King, a former inmate released from San Quentin six months ago, told the committee that overcrowding made it hard not to get sick there.

"I never went one year without catching a cold," he said.

Overall, the state prison system is at about 120% of capacity.

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