San Quentin prison gate. As of July 7, the prison has 1,369 active cases and has seen 6 deaths.

Open Letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom from Criminal Justice and Prison Scholars

Dear Gov. Newsom,

More than a decade ago you showed courage, initiative, and deep commitment to human rights and dignity when, as Mayor of San Francisco, you opened the door to same-sex marriages. As Governor, you showed the same courage and commitment in deciding to place a moratorium on the death penalty in California.

As criminal justice and corrections scholars, we are writing to urge you to once again do the right thing. Throughout California, COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are ravaging state prisons. As of July 6, 5,343 people in California prisons have tested positive for COVID-19, 25 people have died, and hundreds are struggling with active symptoms and hospitalizations. At San Quentin Prison, a botched transfer from the California Institute of Men allowed the virus to spread like wildfire, with 1,421 people who have tested positive.

A recent report on San Quentin Prison from a team of UCSF physicians revealed flawed, negligent protocols for isolation and treatment, lack of consistent and updated testing, unconscionable delay in providing testing results, inappropriate grouping of staff members, and physical locations for isolations that are terrifying and alienating to the population. These inadequate practices are happening against the backdrop of prisons already bursting at the seams, with many of them overcrowded not only well beyond their design capacity, but over the 137.5% limitation set for the entire correctional system by federal courts more than a decade ago.

The men and women in California prisons are serving sentences meted out by law. The California Penal Code did not sentence them to neglect, abuse, illness at overcrowded institutions with the potential to become mass graveyards. As to those falling ill and dying on death row, surely your moratorium on the death penalty, and the decades and billions of dollars spent litigating capital punishment protocols, should not end with deaths by COVID-19.

Moreover, COVID-19 infection is not a zero-sum game, and prioritizing the prison crisis does not come at the expense of the state overall — rather, it protects all of us. In both Marin and Lassen counties, spikes in community infections followed closely after spikes in infection within state prisons; all correctional institutions are permeable to the outside through staff mobility. Protecting people in prison protects people outside prison, too. By contrast, incubating the virus at our state prisons puts the entire state at risk, potentially rendering all your important prevention work, all the efforts at public education about masks and social distancing, and the immense sacrifices of all Californians futile.

We urge you to exercise all the powers at your disposal and release people from prisons to their communities — not just at San Quentin, but systemwide. Given the overcrowding and contagion spread, the release of a few thousands is but a drop in the bucket. A robust body of research in our field confirms that such releases, via executive orders, clemency, and parole (hundreds who have been found eligible for parole are still behind bars), will not endanger public safety. A quarter of the California prison population is aged 50 years and older; this population consists largely of people whose crimes of commitment were committed decades ago, and who do not pose any public risk, violent or otherwise. Previous declines in the California prison population, through the Criminal Justice Realignment and through Prop. 47, did not put the public at risk. We urge you to follow solid findings in criminology, public policy, criminal justice, and public health, rather than misleading and fear-mongering media reports.

We appreciate and admire your willingness to courageously do the right thing in previous pivotal moments; your initiative on same-sex marriage and on the death penalty moratorium have shown your prescience and will be remembered kindly by history. This is precisely such a moment. We urge you to lead us in the right direction.

Respectfully,

Hadar Aviram, Thomas E. Miller ’73 Professor of Law, UC Hastings College of the Law

Malcolm M. Feeley, Claire Sanders Clements Dean’s Professor of Law, Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley

Sharon Dolovich, Professor of Law and Director, UCLA Law Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project, UCLA School of Law

Aaron Littman, Binder Clinical Teaching Fellow and Deputy Director, UCLA Law Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project, UCLA School of Law

Susan Coutin, Professor, Criminology, Law and Society, UC Irvine

Arielle W. Tolman, Law and Science Fellow, Northwestern University

Adelina Iftene, Assistant Professor, Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University

Michael Gibson-Light, Assistant Professor of Sociology & Criminology, University of Denver

Valena Beety, Professor of Law, Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law

W. David Ball, Professor, Santa Clara School of Law

Keramet Reiter, Associate Professor, Criminology, Law & Society, University of California, Irvine

Zachary Psick, Graduate Student, UC Davis

Nicole Kaufman, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Ohio University

Kitty Calavita, Chancellor’s Professor Emerita, UC Irvine

Susila Gurusami, Assistant Professor of Criminology, Law, and Justice at UIC (UCLA doctoral alum)

Angela P. Harris, Professor Emerita, UC Davis School of Law

Tasha Hill, Managing Attorney, The Hill Law Firm

Gabriela Gonzalez, Doctoral Candidate, University of California, Irvine

Aya Gruber, Professor, University of Colorado Law School

Shannon Gleeson, Associate Professor, Cornell University

Melissa McCall J.D., PhD Student, UC Berkeley Law

Gennifer Furst, Professor, Sociology & Criminal Justice, William Paterson University of NJ

Dvir Yogev, PhD student, UC Berkeley

Caity Curry, PhD Candidate, University of Minnesota

Alessandro De Giorgi, Professor, Department of Justice Studies, SJSU

Brett Burkhardt, Associate Professor, Oregon State University

Russell Rickford, Assoc. Prof. of History, Cornell University

Brianna Remster, Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminology, Villanova University

Aaron Kupchik, Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice, University of Delaware

Sarah Russell, Professor of Law, Quinnipiac University School of Law

Caitlin Henry, Esq., Faculty, Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies, Sonoma State University

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Hope Metcalf, Clinical Lecturer in Law, Yale Law School

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Benjamin Fleury-Steiner, Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice, University of Delaware

Colleen Berryessa, Assistant Professor, Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice

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Jack Jin Gary Lee, Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology and Legal Studies, Kenyon College

Jason Sexton, Visiting Research Fellow, UCLA’s California Center for Sustainable Communities

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Anna Reosti, Research Professor, American Bar Foundation

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Tina Lee, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Stout

Rosann Greenspan, PhD, Executive Director (Retired), Center for the Study of Law and Society, UC Berkeley School of Law

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Jonathan Marshall, Director, Legal Studies Program, UC Berkeley

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Tony Platt, Distinguished Affiliated Scholar, Center for the Study of Law & Society, UC Berkeley

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Tal Kastner, Jacobson Fellow in Law and Business, New York University School of Law

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Timothy Stewart-Winter, Associate Professor of History, Rutgers University-Newark

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Kimberly D. Richman, Professor, University of San Francisco

Matthew Canfield, Assistant Professor, Drake University

Dallas Augustine, Ph.D. Candidate at UC Irvine; Research Associate at UCSF

Leigh Goodmark, Marjorie Cook Professor of Law and Co-Director, Clinical Law Program, University of Maryland

David Greenberg, Professor, New York University

Kathryne Young, Assistant Professor, University of Massachusettes, Amherst

Amie Dowling, Associate Professor, University of San Francisco

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Ashley Rubin, Assistant Professor, University of Hawaii, Manoa

Johann Koehler, Assistant Professor of Criminology, London School of Economics and Political Science

Heather Ringo, English Adjunct Professor at Solano Community College & PhD Student at UC Davis

Hal Pepinsky, Prof. Emeritus, Criminal Justice and East Asian Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington

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Marie Gottschalk, Professor, University of Pennsylvania

Jack Jackson, Board of Directors, Homeless Action Center

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Liam Espinoza-Zemlicka, Graduate Student, UC Riverside

Claire Markham, Homeless Action Center, Board Member

Erika Stephens, Medical Student, UCSF School of Medicine

Victoria Robinson, Lecturer, Department of Ethnic Studies, UC Berkeley

Doran Larson, Professor, Hamilton College

Anjuli Verma, Assistant Professor of Politics, University of California, Santa Cruz (Politics Department & Legal Studies Program)

Juhi Varshney, MS4, UCSF School of Medicine

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Andy Barlow, Lecturer in Sociology, UC Berkeley

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Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Professor of Law, Boston University School of Law

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Paula Lehman-Ewing, Editor, All of Us or None

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Shalila de Bourmont, 2nd year medical student, UCSF

Jose A. Brandariz, Professor, University of A Coruna, Spain

David Garland, Arthur T Vanderbilt Professor of Law, NYU School of Law

Anna Feiss, medical student, UCSF

Jorge David Mancillas, PhD student, University of California, Los Angeles

Antigona Martinez, Ph.D., Columbia University

Laura Rovner, Professor of Law & Director of Civil Rights Clinic, University of Denver College of Law

Mel Greenlee, PhD -Visiting Scholar CSLS-UC Berkeley

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Linda Starr, Executive Director and Clinical Professor of Law, Northern CA Innocence Project at Santa Clara University School of Law

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Lesli Houston, retired Solano County Public Defender

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Leonard Rubio, Executive Director, Insight Prison Project, University of San Francisco Class of 2013

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Angela Sevin, Director, Green Life project of Earth Island Institute, San Quentin program

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Stephen Rohde, Chair, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace

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Grace Kyungwon Hong, Director, Center for the Study of Women, Professor, Gender Studies and Asian American Studies, UCLA

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Ashley Raveche, Commissioner, EPC

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