San Quentin Prison's COVID-19 Deaths Highlight Officials' Inept Pandemic Response

Six dead in a week, and 1,500 infections, all due to poor decisions by the state. And leaders still wonder why people won't do what they say.


A week ago, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and state officials acknowledged a massive coronavirus infection spike in San Quentin State Prison, affecting nearly a third of its prisoners. No deaths were reported.

Just a week later, the prison has reported six deaths. The state's prison system has reported 28 deaths overall from the virus so far, which means that essentially one-fifth of those deaths have come in just the past week at San Quentin. Three of the prisoners who died of COVID-19 were on death row and three were in the general population.

This disaster is most likely of the state's own making. California's prisons had been managing the COVID-19 pandemic fairly well, with the exception of the California Institution for Men in Chino. That prison has had more than 700 infections and has seen a majority of the state's COVID-19 deaths, 16 of them. To reduce prison crowding and the possibility of further virus spread in Chino, prison officials transferred 121 prisoners by bus from Chino to San Quentin in late May.

Some of those transferred prisoners likely brought the coronavirus with them, according to public health officials. Few of the transferred prisoners had been tested for COVID-19 in the weeks before the transfer and they weren't tested in San Quentin prior to being introduced to the prison population. Prior to the transfer in May, San Quentin had no reported infections. In effect, the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation may have created an outbreak where one did not previously exist, and people are dying because of it.

Marin County, where San Quentin is located, is seeing its own spike in new cases, setting several new records in June. Officials there have scaled back plans to allow some businesses to reopen. And that's without counting the infections in the prison. It's worth taking note of the surrounding community because early research into the spread of COVID-19 infections at jails and prisons found that corrections staff themselves were extremely vulnerable, getting infected at higher rates than inmates, and then potentially bringing the coronavirus back home to their communities. It's dangerous to assume that an infection at a jail or prison is contained inside its walls merely because the prisoners are contained. The New York Times calculates that nine out of 10 of the largest virus clusters in America are connected to prisons. The Times lists 1,587 cases connected to San Quentin, though the prison itself reports a total of 1,429 cases among prisoners (both active and resolved). That leaves at least 158 infections of non-inmates, and that's probably an undercount.

Even if the outbreak and its casualties are confined to prisoners, that doesn't make it acceptable, ethical, or moral to ignore it. Even if some people are callous enough to write inmates off for their crimes and care little if they get sick and die, America is still, like clockwork, discovering that we're incarcerating people who are innocent.

The incompetence on display here is staggering. What is worse, the same state government that is failing to stop the spread of coronavirus among the prisoners in its custody persists in telling Californians what they must or can't do to combat COVID-19's spread.

If you're still wondering why some people don't trust the government's handling of the coronavirus outbreak, a look at what happened over the course of a single month at San Quentin provides a simple, stark answer.

NEXT: Narcissists, Psychopaths, and Manipulators Are More Likely To Engage in 'Virtuous Victim Signaling,' Says Study

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  1. We must release all the criminals in San Quintin, especially the murderers, rapists, pedophiles, and kidnappers back into socieity.
    So what if these career criminals will murder, rob, and rape again?
    Isn’t that a small price to pay to ensure they don’t get the sniffles?

    1. Brilliant article. I had wondered how future generations would view the mind boggling hysteria that is currently gripping the whole world, especially Europe and the USA. We look back at past centuries and wonder how they could have been so stupid. I guess it shows how powerful mass hysteria can be – like a stampede. Thought the writer was a historian, his analysis is so sharp. He has seen through the Emperor’s new clothesHEREClick For Full Details.

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  2. Three of the prisoners who died of COVID-19 were on death row

    So there is a silver lining.

    1. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. Damn cheap too considering the cost of appeals all the way to SCOTUS. Send all the sneezers to the East Block.

      There’s something kinda Old West about this kind of justice. In the spirit of Isaac Parker known as “The Hanging Judge”, I submit Gavin Newsom be hereafter known as “The Infection Governor”. While the nickname lacks the same level of gravitas, it befits the soy-boy governor.

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  3. Wow, the incompetence is staggering even by government standards.
    Are they looking for civil rights lawsuits? Sheesh.

    1. Bill de Blasio and Andrew Cuomo are a little annoyed that they now have such wiley competitors. However, when it comes to political baggage, there’s far less to be concerned about with killing off death row inmates than killing grandma. Newsome for the win.

  4. Used to be we had frontiers for the ne’er-do-wells, I suppose Alaska is the closest to that now, and cold and snow doesn’t appeal to enough people.

    That’s my theory on why cops are such thugs. Kid gets out of high school, scrapes by only because he knows there’s always the military and the cops. Military is tough though, they have rules, and there’s a better chance of dying. So the cowards and opportunists end up being cops.

    And if they can’t make it as cops, they become prison guards. Even mall rent-a-cops have more integrity than prison guards.

    1. SQRLSY One
      July.2.2020 at 5:11 pm
      Port-a-potties ARE buffets

      SQRLSY One
      July.7.2020 at 1:41 pm
      I have said that I eat shit!

      1. Tulpa has said that she likes to slurp down her own maggot-laden yeast-infected twat juice!

  5. And leaders still wonder why people won’t do what they say.

    Because we aren’t mindless sheep. Well Jeff is. And sarc. And Tony.

    1. What a one-trick zombie.

  6. Were those prisoners at any of the peaceful protests?

    1. Obviously not. The virus doesn’t spread at those.

    2. Nope. Not enough time for them to be ground through the “Just Us” system to end up in San Quentin by now. The rioters and looters might be in Quentin in time for next year’ variant of the China Flu.

  7. There are completely different skill sets involved here. A doctor might be able to come up with a plan to prevent the spread of disease, and a prison guard can certainly handle prisoners’ attempts at escape and mayhem, but who is qualified to handle both at the same time?
    If the doctors were in charge, probably we would be looking at at least some dead medical personnel. Just because you have their health in mind the prisoner has his own agenda. These are not people kept in a rest home. They are all violent and completely untrustworthy.

  8. What’s shocking isn’t the number of infections, but the death rate from them. Presumably there are things about prisoners and/or prison conditions that enhance the severity of disease from the infections. In nursing homes we already know that.

    Because, if you look only at getting infected, my attitude for most people regarding this virus is, what’s wrong with that? We’re going to get it sooner or later unless we take greater precautions than the general population does, but those of us who don’t take greater precautions are doing the high risk population a favor by getting us thru this pandemic sooner.

    1. Does anyone think guys on death row are doing whatever they can to keep themselves healthy?

      1. Maybe, working out and getting a good amount of sleep helps boost the bodies immune system. Stress from prison life and lack of a good diet may reduce those benefits though.

    2. There are over 1,000 infected prisoners and 6 dead. That implies an upper bound on the death rate of 0.6%. It’s likely lower than that, since more prisoners may have been previously infected and thus would not test positive now. 0.3% is probably a better estimate and would match nicely with the CDC’s best current nationwide estimate. This is 2-3 times higher than the death rate for the flu. So why is this shocking?

      1. Not of the 1,000+, but these recent cases.

    3. lousey diet, lack of real exercise, inside almost al the time, stress, all take their toll on the immune system. Healthwise these guys are at rather high risk. Many of them are also already at high risk because of lifestyle choices. Homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, lenty of alcohol, drug addiction/uillegal use all put them at high risk and low health before they get in there. nd those contidions aren’t exactly conducive to restoring one to their former strength and vigour

  9. The healthcare delivery system for California’s prisons has been in receivership since 2006–for providing an unconstitutional level of care. California has been under court order to alleviate prison overcrowding since 2009 because the overcrowding was so bad, it violated the prisoners’ right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. They were releasing violent offenders for lack of space.

    Jerry Brown tried holding people in the county jails instead of the state penitentiaries, but conditions in jails have always been worse, and the courts finally made them stop doing that, too, because of the overcrowding. They started shipping prisoners out of state to alleviate the overcrowding . . .

    Well meaning and honest people always wanted to blame the drug war and three strikes for the overcrowding problem, but the problem has been been apparent since long before the healthcare system went into receivership. That case was initiated in 2001!

    Point being, California has money to spend on bullet trains to nowhere. California has money to buy booze and hotel rooms for homeless people to make them comply with the stay in place order. California has money to pay the average CalTrans worker more than $100,000 a year. California has the money to promise outrageous pension benefits to state employees.

    California has only built one prison since 2006.

    The reason the prisons in California are overcrowded and the reason COVID-19 is running rampant among the inmates isn’t because of the drug war or mandatory sentencing. The reason prisons in California are overcrowded is because the government in Sacramento chooses to spend money on everything except the most basic legitimate purpose of their government–which is to protect us from criminals.

    The healthcare system in the prisons has been in receivership–for 14 years?! In 2006, maybe the problem was the drug war and mandatory sentencing. The reason it remains a problem 14 years later is because the government in Sacramento has sat on it for 14 years and done practically nothing.

    1. P.S. Think I’m making this up?

      As of August 2016, California has about 6,000 state prisoners in two privately operated correctional centers in Arizona and Mississippi to relieve prison overcrowding: the La Palma Correctional Facility, and the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility.[2]

    2. With enough prisons we can lock everyone up! Problem solved!

      Getting rid of the drug war means not only not having to lock up non-violent and victimless offenders, it also means we have fewer violent offenders that the drug prohibition creates.

      Alcohol didn’t create Al Capone, prohibition did.

      1. Only about 15% of inmates in state prisons are there for a drug conviction. San Quentin is a state prison. Like it or not, there are a lot of bad and violent people out there who commit bad and violent crimes. If government has any legitimate function, it’s to protect the rest of us from these people.

        The notion that most people in prison are there for drug crimes is simply untrue. It’s nearly true in the federal prison system, where about 45% of inmates are there for a drug conviction. However, there are far more inmates in state prisons than federal prisons.

        1. How many are imprisoned for blowing on cheap plastic flutes? Inquiring minds want to KNOW!!!

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      2. They were releasing violent offenders. There were releases of violent offenders before 2011, but in 2011, the courts ordered California to release an additional 30,000 inmates–take your pick and release whomever you want.

        Before that, they were releasing people who were in prison for spousal abuse, people who beat their kids, and people who were unlikely to hurt anyone who wasn’t their spouse or family member.
        After that, they were releasing all kinds of violent offenders.

        The primary legitimate purpose of state government is protect our rights from violent criminals, and if you raped someone, committed armed robbery, etc., then you should be locked up in a cage if you were duly convicted by a jury of your peers. California being ordered to release 30,000 inmates regardless of the nature of their crime represented a total failure of state government–and they haven’t built but one new prison since 2006.

        In almost any other state in the country, if the state government failed so spectacularly that the they had to release 30,000 offenders back into society, not because they weren’t a threat to reoffend and not because they weren’t duly convicted but solely because the state government decided not to build enough prisons to house them, then the governor and/or the state legislature would change parties.

        Meanwhile, the bullet train costs $80.3 billion.

        Meanwhile, California’s state unfunded pension liabilities are in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

    3. they spend crazy money for cops to harrass folks on some of their petty firearms “crimes’, wasting police manpower. They spend inordinate amounts of resources “controlling” common fiurearms ownership, petty drug offenses, subsidising (so as to get more…) homelessness ($6,000 per month to put them up one to a room, in posh hotels with meals, etc) they won’t let THE PEOPLE take care of “the security of a free state” on their own, preferring to moslty disarm them and CERTAINLY not let them go about armed in public

      1. It’s bad enough that the state of California releases violent criminals, even worse that the state makes it so hard to defend ourselves. That just adds injury to insult.

        I agree.

  10. That prison has had more than 700 infections and has seen a majority of the state’s COVID-19 deaths, 16 of them.

    Huh? According to Worldometer, California has had 6,445 COVID-19 deaths so far. Sixteen deaths is a lot less than a majority of them.

    1. Must mean a majority of the state’s prison-based covid-19 deaths. 16 out of 28.

      1. Jinx, but you beat me!

    2. Majority of the state’s *prison* COVID deaths, perhaps?

      1. that’s what the article said…….

  11. Only 3 articles today? Has the reason staff defected to Vox? Has Bailey finally snapped from all the conflicting statistics and taken everyone hostage?

    1. His list of demands:
      1. Universal covid testing
      2. Forced vaccinations
      3. Live forever

      1. One out of three ain’t bad!

        1. Bailey’s immortality is supposed to be a secret.

    2. And they aren’t even good culture war articles. How are we supposed to pointlessly argue and hate on each other?

      1. No, you’re a potato!

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  12. Sure would be nice to have some context – especially when the death rate in the general population appears to be trending downward.

    Because without them this sort of article might be easily dismissed as the worst sort of agenda driven drivel.

    1. Hey Britschgi, now do New York State nursing homes.

  13. Maybe it’s less about incompetence and more about the nature of prisons. Prisons are not luxury hotels and trend to be crowded. Isolating sick inmates might be impossible simply because of space constraints. The prisoners chose to be placed under the care of incompetent state officials, and most of them, having experienced the hospitality therein, made that choice more than once. Reasonable efforts must be made to keep them healthy and to treat their illnesses, but nothing beyond that.

  14. So lockdowns don’t work – a prison being the most extreme form of lockdown.

  15. We have President Donald J. Trump, all the people who were stupid and/or vicious enough to elect him into office, and the fact that the electoral college is in place to thank for this goddamned fucking Covid-19 virus. The fucktards who refuse to abide by the rules of wearing masks that cover their mouths and noses when they go out in public, or to social distance from other people have helped to screw everybody over, too.

    1. If you think the solution to our problems is getting rid of the electoral college (like that’s about to happen) or imagine that intelligence is somehow positively correlated with obedience, then maybe the more immediate problem is that you need to grow up.

      1. Excellent.

  16. How many prisoners normally die at San Quentin each year Scott?

    Lying through omission.

    California is as close to Socialism as America will probably ever get. They are getting Socialism good and hard. Many of state prisoners are there for nonviolent crimes. Cooking meth, intent to distribute, gang affiliation, gun possession, parole violations, and probation violations.

    Democrats use prisons for a substitute for slavery and always have since they lost the civil war. Commifornia has a huge prison manufacturing racket.

    Anyone who wants Democrats to run things is pro slavery.

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