A group of criminal and social justice advocates raised allegations Thursday that some inmates at San Quentin State Prison are being asked to indemnify the prison and the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in the event they contract COVID-19 while in the facility.
The allegations, levied by the advocacy group No Justice Under Capitalism, come from several unnamed inmates at San Quentin who said they were asked to accept a transfer to another prison in the state.
Those who refused the transfer were then asked to sign a form agreeing, in part, “to hold the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the staff of the medical department and the institution free of any responsibility for injury or complications that may result from my refusal.”
A spokesperson for California Correctional Health Care Services, which provides health care within the state’s prison system, said the agency has asked some San Quentin inmates who are at a higher risk to contract the virus to voluntarily move to housing deemed safer than the facility’s main dorm and open cell housing.
“Those who refused to move were asked to sign a declination form stating they understand the risks associated with their decision and for documentation purposes,” Liz Gransee said in an emailed statement.
Gransee said San Quentin is no longer asking high-risk inmates to sign the form if they decline the housing change, instead offering them an appeal process.
Inmates deemed high-risk are also offered an antibody test before being moved and will be allowed to remain in their current housing situation if they test positive for COVID-19 antibodies.
“It’s important to note that every safety precaution will be taken on any patient movement, including testing before and after any moves, quarantining upon arrival at the new housing location, and sanitation of all housing spaces prior to any movement,” Gransee said.
San Quentin was relatively removed from the pandemic during the spring, when the Bay Area and the state both issued stay-at-home orders to keep the virus from spreading.
That changed in late May, when approximately 120 inmates from the California Institution for Men, which had an active outbreak at the time, were transferred to San Quentin, sparking a wave of cases across the prison.
At the time, Gov. Gavin Newsom and criminal justice advocates both called for the transfer or early release of thousands of non-violent inmates at the prison.
Criminal justice advocates have also leveled accusations of improper sanitation, mask wearing and social distancing at the prison, on which CDCR officials have pushed back.
Ultimately, the outbreak would eventually infect more than 2,200 inmates at San Quentin, killing 28, including several death row inmates.
As of Thursday, San Quentin had three active coronavirus cases, including two confirmed in the last 14 days.