Another Way to Thin Out the Death Row Population at San Quentin: The Pestilence Pilot Program
So here we are in San Quentin’s death row experiment. The latest twist as we go head first into the COVID-19 pandemic may be described as a new method of execution. Many may not know most prisoners here die from something other than the “official” method of execution or that all sorts of ailments permeate the aging population. But saying the elderly here are now more at risk than before the outbreak would be an understatement.
As this report begins there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases among the death row population at San Quentin. There is however one confirmed case of the virus within the ranks of SQ staff. With visits suspended, the only remaining vector for COVID-19 is CDCR employees. They may bring it in to us without even knowing they’re infected or spreading it. So it’s only a matter of time until it spreads.
Despite knowing they are the only possible vector, SQ custody staff are not wearing N95 masks when “security” reasons require them to be within 6’ of death row prisoners. Instead of halting the spread by taking precautions, the higher ups set up a “window dressing display” that consists of pretending to be complying with Newsom’s shelter-in-place order by implementing a rotating yard schedule for death row. Half of East Block’s death row prisoners go to their 7 different yards one day, then the others (which includes 1 of 2 tiers in Donner Section) go the next day. That may sound like it facilitates “social distancing” but where prisoners are celled and which of those 7 yards each is assigned to, is not balanced in any way. One day we see upwards of 35 prisoners on some yards. The next day some yards have only 3 or 4. Again, don’t forget there are no COVID-19 cases among prisoners while the only vector is conducting those yards release/returns with close proximity to all of us, without N95 masks. That means the rotating yard schedule is in no way conducive to stopping the spread of COVID-19 among death row prisoners (or any of the other staff for that matter).
While nobody in any California prison is not at risk, death row prisoners at SQ are intentionally being put at risk when exposure is avoidable. Oh, by the way, as for those who may reason death row prisoners don’t deserve to be safeguarded from COVID-19, consider the fact that when we start taking up space in hospitals and precious spaces are being used up when this pandemic really takes off, you can thank the disrespectful sows and their lack of urgency regarding this national emergency for that.
[Update, Addendum] On the morning of 29 March 2020, it was announced over the P.A. system that medical quarantine is now in place and there will be no yard program. The reason for the quarantine is not yet confirmed but it only applied to death row. One corrections officer, on 30 March 2020, did supply a simple answer to the question about why there was a medical quarantine – a breakout of influenza not COVID-19.
Shortly after April Fool’s Day the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued guidelines recommending everyone leaving their homes for essential travel to wear a cloth mask. That decision was made due to evidence that asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 can be contagious 48 hours before exhibiting any symptoms [and many people are contagious and never end up showing symptoms at all - editor]. Unfortunately, instead of following CDC guidelines, the disrespectful sows employed by CDCr assigned to warehousing its death row population continue to snort in protest, refusing to wear a protective mask of any kind. Sicker than that, or at least close second, is the fact custody staff assigned to in-cell food service continue to be in willful noncompliance with California Heath and Safety Code 113969 Hair Restraints (see also 15CCCr 3052 (a)(f)). Consider the fact COVID-19 can be spread by asymptomatic carriers coughing, sneezing, talking or just breathing; common sense dictates – come on this isn’t brain surgery! These disrespectful sows walk handcuffed prisoners by the arm anywhere they go. So much for social distancing – no mask plus no 6’ social distancing equals: there’s no math involved!
Here’s another part of this Pestilence Pilot Program to be dissected: According to 15CCR 3274 Inmate Count and Movement “At least one daily count shall be standing count wherein inmates shall stand at their cell door, or in a dormitory, shall sit… during the designated count time.” So, if we just ignore 15CCR 3271 which requires “The safe custody of the inmates confined…” Demanding close proximity in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic where CDC and California Health & Safety is being routinely ignored by the CDCr employees; it’s just another day at the office for the disrespectful sow counting inmates in between counting sheep (that is, if they’re not watching TV, playing cards, shooting baskets in the trash can or eating). Even among themselves, no masks, no social distancing, no respect and no common sense! Now here’s the funny part: any prisoner not standing at the cell door to be counter (and exposed) gets a Disobeying A Direct Order Rules Violation Report. Again, let’s not consider 15CCR 3274, oh, and that the cells are only about 10’ x 4.5’. Unless the bars are blocked or the prisoner is under the bunk, one can be seen and accounted for. That old ostrich with the head in the sand trick can’t be done!
And with that, the higher ups’ newest window dressing display features distribution of a 27 March 2020 memo telling inmates “all individuals [who] enter a facility… showing any symptoms of respiratory illness are not permitted to enter” and “[w]e are doing all we can to keep everybody safe” and they “will continue to follow CDC guidelines for responding to COVID 19.” (But not really.)
On 7 April 2020 the rotating yard schedule started up again. The only change is which side of East Block goes with the 1st tier of Donner. It’s a “same shit different day” scenario. There continues to be disproportionate numbers of prisoners on the group yards, which is not conducive to facilitating social distancing. When it was suggested that group yards be ran in a manner similar to SMY (Small Management Yard or walk alone “W/A”) it is met with mock confusion and resistance. There are around 100 prisoners assigned to W/A but there are only 31 cages (SMYs). So, to give all assigned to W/A a chance to go out, a list is made each morning by an assigned officer going cell to cell until the number of prisoners wishing to go meets the number of available cages. The next day the assigned officer begins the list where it became full the previous day. There is no reason the group yards should not be ran in similar fashion during the COVID-19 National Emergency. As employees should be wearing masks as recommended by CDC guidelines and the (A) Warden Broomfield 27 March 2020 memo claiming SQ employees must “Follow [CDC] guidelines for responding to COVID 19” shouldn’t allow common sense to be swept under the rug. Getting into compliance with CDC guidelines and limiting the number of prisoners allowed on each of the 7 group yard to 30 makes sense under current conditions. Unfortunately, making sense proves to not be high on the SQ administration’s list of priorities.
On 9 April 2020 the Director of the Center for Disease Control again announced that all employees (working in essential business) should be wearing cloth masks at all times. The CDCR22 [grievance form] sent to "AS of Specialized Housing (Death Row) remains non-responsive and CDC guidelines regarding masks continue to be ignored just as all other CDCR22’s on this and related topics have been since at least 29 March 2020. At this point in time the visiting restriction rules out the possibility any future infection to death row prisoners came from any source other than a CDCR employee not in compliance with CDC guidelines. Security cameras would reveal a few medical and custody staff do wear masks. It would also reveal most do not. Could this be an example of too little too late? It’s definitely an example of CDCR staff endangering themselves and others in their custody. Death Row prisoners at San Quentin cannot spread COVID-19 among themselves until CDCR employees spread it to them first.