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February 26, 2021

Soledad prison tackles Covid-19 outbreak as families protest over health concerns

Activists demand changes for safer conditions among inmates

SOLEDAD — A small group of about a dozen family members and activists protested Saturday outside the entrance of Salinas Valley State Prison and Correctional Training Facility in Soledad.

Their goal was to raise awareness of the increasing Covid-19 infections and deaths inside the facilities, as well as ask the state for prisoner releases so the incarcerated can stay with their families rather than remain in infectious environments.

The Dec. 19 protest followed last week’s announcement that a sixth inmate had died within CTF this year as a result of Covid-19. On Monday, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announced a seventh death.

“We’ve had six deaths here at CTF,” said a woman who identified herself only as Dawn, one of the protest organizers. “Kathleen Allison is the new head of CDCR and she has yet to do anything. We’re calling on Gov. Newsom to take control … and allow our men and women to come home to a safe, loving environment, under safe protocols.”

A protester, who identified herself only as Dawn, speaks in front of the Soledad state prisons Dec. 19 to call for safer conditions inside the facilities. (Sean Roney/Staff)

Dawn said state prison facilities have done little over the past nine months in terms of Covid-19 preparation since the pandemic began in March. New measures, such as increased testing and tented quarantine areas, have only recently been implemented. 

Another protest organizer, who went by the name Alice, said too much movement between infected individuals was going on, such as how the new positive cases are put into the same quarantine area as those about to leave, meaning the virus is allowed to spread back into the general population once someone leaves quarantine.

“If you have one that’s ready to be released that day and one that’s coming in, those germs are going to be on that person leaving and you’re going to go back to an environment that has negatives and continue to spread,” Alice said.

She urged for a better plan and protocols in order to stop the spread.

“They should have allowed them to quarantine in their cells or have a designated area where it’s just sick and then when they’re getting better, put them in a separate room,” Dawn said.

As for the testing, Alice said the focus should be on personnel.

“These correctional officers, these nurses, these staff, go back home to the communities, that’s how the spread happens,” she said. “It’s not just inside the prison. It’s after the fact and everything that they do out in the communities.”

“They’re the ones subject to the community and they have more interaction with people,” Dawn added. “But also test our loved ones. And when you test them, treat them right. They’re treating them very harshly. Whether they’re incarcerated or not, they’re our loved ones, they’re someone’s loved ones and they should be treated as such.”

According to the protesters, there are some prison employees who are genuinely concerned for the inmates, but they have also heard of some staff who don’t care, or some who don’t wear masks. They asked that the warden issue requirements for the employees to wear masks at all times.

The Saturday protest was only in Soledad, rather than statewide, to highlight the rising infection numbers at the Correctional Training Facility.

“They’re the highest one right now on the numbers in CDCR,” Dawn said.

The protest numbers were lower than expected, as Alice explained families were expecting to be able to do video visits with their loved ones. They said CTF, however, made an announcement Dec. 17 that video visits would not go through for portions of the facility due to the creation of tent quarantine areas.

“They’re going to put tents out on the yard and let these men freeze to death while they’re trying to beat Covid,” Alice said.

Dawn raised the concern of only one video visit per month, and how even after the pandemic settles, that is something she would like to see increase for the emotional and mental health of families.

In a Dec. 21 message posted on its website, CDCR said it will receive its first allocation of vaccines this month and is currently working with its public health partners on a distribution plan.

The initial focus will be on “people at high risk of becoming infected or severely ill from Covid-19, as well as frontline workers,” the message stated.

“In the meantime, we are continuing to ensure everyone is taking every precaution to ensure the safety and wellness of everyone who lives and works in our institutions,” CDCR said. “We are thankful to the families, friends and loved ones of our incarcerated population, as well as stakeholders. Your hard work, dedication, and sacrifice this year has not been lost on us, and we are very appreciative of all your efforts.”

Sean Roney
Sean Roney
Sean Roney is the reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers education, government and general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.
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