California Sees First Prison Inmate Death Days After Judge Rejects Pleas For More Prisoners To Be Released

California has seen its first cases of inmates dying from complications related to coronavirus, with state corrections officials announcing the first death on Sunday.

In a statement, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announced that the inmate, whose identity has not yet been released, had died in a hospital on Sunday after contracting COVID-19 at the California Institute for Men in San Bernardino County.

According to The Los Angeles Times, another inmate from the U.S. Penitentiary at Lompoc also died on Saturday due to coronavirus-related complications, but he had been released from the facility on April 1. He died five days after testing positive for coronavirus, according to the newspaper.

Newsweek has contacted the CDCR for more information.

The deaths come as California continues to see inmates and corrections facility workers infected with coronavirus.

As of Sunday, 115 inmates and 89 corrections employees had tested positive for the virus, statewide, according to The Times.

Yet, on Friday, a bid to see California release more inmates to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 was shut down in federal court, with U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar ruling against the effort.

In his ruling, Tigar said lawyers representing inmates would need to be able to demonstrate that state officials were "indifferent" to protecting inmates and therefore violating their rights in order to justify their release.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is 'unprecedented'...and no one questions that it poses a substantial risk of serious harm to plaintiffs," Tigar wrote in his ruling, which was published online by Courthouse News. "But given the numerous and significant measures the State of California has taken and continues to take in response to COVID-19, the court cannot conclude that state officials have been deliberately indifferent."

Officials in California have taken a number of steps in response to the coronavirus outbreak, including allowing the early release of hundreds of inmates. They have also introduced temporary additional housing and sanitation facilities to allow greater social distancing between inmates.

Prison protest
Human Rights activists prepare for a car caravan protest through downtown Los Angeles to call on officials to release inmates from jails to prevent the spread of coronavirus, April 7, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. Inmates and rights groups across the country have been calling for prisoners to be released amid the coronavirus outbreak. Robyn Beck /AFP/Getty

As such, Tigar asserted that "although it is undisputed that the risks of COVID-19 are substantial, and the Court believes that Defendants have the ability to take additional steps to decrease the risk of spreading the disease, Plaintiffs have not demonstrated that Defendants' response at this time is constitutionally deficient."

"Accordingly, Plaintiffs' emergency motion regarding prevention and management of COVID-19 is denied," he said.

As part of their efforts to promote social distancing, prison officials are expected to create eight-person housing cohorts for inmates.

Tigar said they would be expected to present the steps they have taken to bring that plan to fruition, as well as a timeline for completion, at a case management conference on Monday.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC.
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.