FRESNO, Calif. -- Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announced new programs that will allow for the early release of up to 8,000 inmates by the end of August to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 as outbreaks continue to flare up across the state prison system.
"These actions are taken to provide for the health and safety of the incarcerated population and staff," Ralph Diaz, Secretary for the CDCR, said in a press release on Friday. "We aim to implement these decompression measures in a way that aligns both public health and public safety."
Incarcerated people who have 180 days or less left on their sentence, are a low risk for violence, and are not serving time for a violent crime will be the first group of inmates eligible for early release.
The department said 4,800 inmates could be released by the end of July.
Inmates who have less than a year left on their sentence and have not committed a violent crime could also be eligible for release by the end of August if they're in one of the following state prisons: San Quentin State Prison, Central California Women's Facility, California Health Care Facility, California Institution for Men, California Institution for Women, California Medical Facility, Folsom State Prison and Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility.
Newsom has been hesitant to release inmates without a plan to once they get out.
"What I can't do is release people to the streets and sidewalks and the parks and benches and call that compassion," the governor said during a press conference Thursday. "To do that, if you're in a medically vulnerable state, in this economy with no family, to leave people out in the streets, is not something that I will do. I want to make sure that people have support when they get out."
The CDCR will also implement a one-time Positive Programming Credit (PPC) award which will provide 12 weeks of credit to inmates who have "provided exceptional assistance in maintaining the safety and security of a prison" during the outbreak of COVID-19. Inmates who have been found guilty of serious Rules Violation Report between March 1 and July 5 will not receive the credit. Time credits will be applied by August 1.
Prisoners who are also deemed to have "high-risk" medical conditions will also be eligible for early release.
The department said all inmates will be tested for the virus seven days before their release.
Officials are working with lawmakers and other agencies to help reintroduce the released people into society.
Officials say those who are currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, or have been "condemned" with a death sentence will not be eligible for a reduced sentence.
The CDCR said prisons are urged to follow normal release protocol if the credits move up a release date for an inmate, including making notifications to the victims of the individuals.