San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said this week that she has formed a special team of workers to notify crime victims when an inmate involved in their case is to be released under a program started by state officials to deal with the coronavirus pandemic in the prison system.
The team was formed in response to the decision announced in July by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to release up to 8,000 more inmates in response to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, sweeping through the state’s prisons.
Prison officials have been working to reduce the population of the system for months to slow the spread of the disease. The prison census recently dropped below 100,000 people for the first time in decades.
But outbreaks continue in state prisons, and activists have stepped up pressure on the corrections department and Gov. Gavin Newsom to release more offenders. In July CDCR announced it would release as many as 8,000 more people by the end of this month.
The agency said it would release inmates with medical issues who are at high risk of contracting the virus, as well as inmates with less than a year to serve on their sentences.
In a news release, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office said hundreds of people have been released to San Diego, though with little notice.
“Unfortunately, neither crime victims nor the District Attorney are being given the opportunity to voice public safety concerns or object to the early releases and CDCR is only notifying victims registered with CDCR,” the statement read. “District Attorneys around the state have stepped up to notify victims that inmates are being released.”
In a follow-up response DA spokesman Steve Walker said approximately 360 people were released to the county between July 1 and Aug. 4. The most recent estimate of eligible inmates who are eligible for early release as of Aug. 13 listed 104 more people.
Stephan said while many of those being released were nearing the end of their terms some people who were released were serving life sentences.
Under the CDCR release criteria, anyone serving a sentence for domestic violence or a violent crime, who has a conviction for an offense requiring them to register as a sex offender or has been assessed as having a high-risk for violence is not eligible for early release.
A report released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California showed that while the state dropped the prison population by 13 percent between from February through July, one third of the state’s 35 prisons remain more than 25 percent over capacity.