Demonstrators chained themselves to the gate in front of California Governor Gavin Newsoms Sacramento home, calling for mass release of prison inmates statewide due to COVID-19 outbreaks in the states prisons. For Chanda Williams, the fight is personal. She has been teaching yoga to inmates at San Quentin state prison for the past six years. The prison has the worst coronavirus outbreak in the states prison system, which houses more than a hundred thousand inmates. Williams has written letters urging authorities to release prisoners. These people were sentenced for crimes. They were not sentenced to die in prison, and certainly not by the negligence of the state. The state has a responsibility to maintain their health and their safety and their well-being, and the state has failed in that. The CDCR has failed in that. Like other institutions caught off guard by the virus, prisons in the US have struggled about how to keep people and maintain staff safe. California is conducting widespread testing, and the governor has given early releases to about 3 500 inmates to ease overcrowding, but there have been setbacks, like in May, when it's believed prisoners transferred from the California institution - four men in Chino to San Quentin brought the virus with them; in July a top prison official addressed inmates in a video. We are making unprecedented changes to our operations and we recognize the burden that has placed on those incarcerated in our prisons.
At San Quentin, at least 19 inmates have died of coronavirus, including 10 on death row. Nationwide more than 70 000 prisoners have tested positive and at least 100 have died, according to the Federal Bureau of prisons. One of Williams' students, 41-year-old Chanthon Bun tested positive July 1st, the day he was released. Bon was not given early release but earned parole, he says. After serving 23 years of a 50-year sentence, he called the president's handling of COVID-19 cases a chaotic experience, because they had this thing where they like, you guys got to space out, and we told we can't space out in our cell. Our cell is five, by nine, by fourteen and then they came out with a memo, "you guys gotta sleep head to toe", and were like what does that do. The prison did not respond to a request for comment. In a video to the prison community, officials proposed steps to increase physical distancing, like moving inmates to alternative housing or other prisons, and changing schedules to allow for more sanitation. The inmates released so far were within 180 days of completing their sentences. The state is planning to release several thousand more, but says it must be done carefully. You don't want to just send people out, into park benches, in homeless shelters. We've got to make sure that we responsibly move people out but with a deep sense of urgency. Releases on a much bigger scale than what we're seeing need to happen, if we're going to keep people safe. While officials say they are working to release more inmates, as a way to limit those exposed to coronavirus, advocates continue to protest, saying it's not happening fast enough. For VOA news Dina Mitchell Oakland California