Mobilized pressure from lawyers who uphold prison reform towards a federal judge is coming into a greater light for the overpopulation crisis in California prisons and has been a huge factor in the continuous COVID-19 outbreaks up to even today.
U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar has been the judicial official that has been in the reigns of over a 20 year old class action lawsuit for poor quality healthcare and prison overcrowding, led by Marciano Plata, a California prisoner. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that the CDCR must reduce its inmate population to 137.5% of capacity, upholding a 2009 order by a panel of three federal judges in California, according to Courthouse News Service. This case escalated as the coronavirus pandemic has impacted all 35 prisons in the state.
Both the Plata case and another class action lawsuit had requested a 3-judge panel to give the approval of releasing medically high-risk prisoners, such as folks who are 65 years old and over and ones with disabilities. However, it was denied as reduction order was not under their authority, leading to more infections in prisons from the Bay Area to Los Angeles.
According to data supplied by the CDCR, the tally now stands at 75 confirmed cases among prisoners throughout the system, with 47 at CIM and 23 at Los Angeles County. The statewide total for infected staff is 83, with 21 of those cases at CIM and 12 at Los Angeles County, according to Courthouse News Service.
With the little to nonexistent compliance and overall efforts CDCR has made to keep all prisoners safe from being further infected, attorneys such as Alison Hardy believes prisoners cannot succeed in proper public health without ignorant government actors not doing their jobs to protect them.
“Defendants have failed to act with the sense of urgency required,” she said. "Despite strong concurrence from public health officials that physical distancing is essential to slow the spread of the virus, the defendants still lack a plan implement to physical distancing in their dormitories.”
“It's entirely possible this proposal could be developed into an adequate plan,” Hardy said. But she added that she doesn't believe the state is moving quickly enough. “The speed at which they are operationalizing the receiver's recommendation simply does not match the urgency of this crisis,” she said.
“My concern is not that it's rampant in all 35 prisons,” Hardy added. "My concern is that the way the housing is currently set up, prisons in many cases will be a tinderbox for the moment when infection does arrive.”
Ideas such as staying in gyms and transfers to loosen up the space have been positively seen, but there is still a long road in ensuring healthcare and the quality of each prisoner's health is actually ensured.