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Families Call For Prison Evacuations from COVID-19 and Human Rights Violations in CDCR

CORCORAN, CA – People from all over the state, who have loved ones in prison, are rallying outside several Central Valley prisons in coordinated protest against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

Protests will convene on Sunday, December 13, 2020 in the following groups to rally around each facility:
–For California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility AND Corcoran State Prison – Meet in front of CSATF at 9:30
–For Kern Valley State Prison & North Kern State Prison – Meet in front of North Kern at 9 am –For Pleasant Valley and Avenal State Prisons – Meet at the Auto Zone at 45 W Polk St, in Coalinga, CA at 9:30 am
–For Wasco State Prison – Meet in front of the Prison at 9am
–For MCCF Delano – Meet in front of the Prison at 9 am

Families and friends are holding memorials for those whose lives have been lost in prison and confronting the institutions and administration who have allowed abuse and negligence to continue. Part of the action is to also deliver an evacuation plan, written collaboratively by families and advocates. “Our loved ones are in a life and death situation and CDCR continues to fail to respond in adequate and urgent measure,” says Christine Herrera, whose husband is currently recovering from COVID-19 inside the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and Prison (SATF) in Corcoran, CA. “We want our loved ones safe; want to bring them home.”

Herrera, like hundreds of other Californians, has attended several protests outside prisons over the past year. A wave of over 50 protests outside CDCR prisons have been led by a grassroots group of people with family in prison called We Are Their Voices. Outside response and attempts to pressure CDCR have taken many forms this year. Call-in actions or phone zaps to wardens and administration for immediate relief of conditions have had temporary and minimal results. Lawsuits and court-ordered releases have resulted in some changes that are unfortunately piecemeal and limited to individual facilities. Participation in legislative hearings have not resulted in system-wide change that are desperately needed.

“I don’t want to die in here,” says Jamie Lien, who is currently incarcerated at SATF and is at a high risk for contracting the virus due to his age and terminal lung cancer. “I’ve heard them [CDCR] say they want this virus to run its course. They want us to get it. They don’t care who dies.” This is an attitude that we’ve seen in the words and behavior of guards across the facility.

Beyond the negligence around COVID-19 safety, quality of life is at a dangerous low. Reports from inside paint a grim situation that has gotten more dire with each passing week. People inside describe near-starvation meals with insultingly tiny food portions. For example, two bits of dough and a radish for breakfast, a packet of crackers and cheese for lunch, a single potato for dinner. People also describe being placed in crowded gym dormitories, or in cells without heat and electricity.

Inside the prison walls, there has been ongoing action and protest against prison conditions despite countless institutional barriers. In November, three men in SATF went on a coordinated hunger strike. Their demands included basic access to showers and clean laundry, COVID-19 testing (which was scarce in the first two weeks of the outbreak), food, and transparency about these  suspicious transfers. Transfers have been a major driver of the spread system wide, and within facilities like SATF. The transfers show that much of the exposure to COVID-19 inside is the result of negligence if not outright deliberate. People across the system are also describing waiting up to a week for test results, and safety protocols like masking and distancing being flagrantly ignored by staff.

Families and advocates are enraged by the system-wide inaction, run-around, and lip service. Inside the prison, there is a total lack of information and transparency, and increasingly limited means of communication; creating a mass state of anxiety that affects both people inside and their family outside. At this moment, CDCr is responsible for 5502 active COVID-19 cases, and 93 deaths from the virus. 60% of the people in SATF have had COVID-19, most of them within the last month, and that figure is over one third at several other facilities. There is not a single facility in the entire system that is currently free from active COVID-19 cases.

“Our loved ones have no choice to shelter-in-place or socially distance, and no chance to get care if they get sick.” says Angela Cadena, activist and organizer. “It’s up to us to be out here advocating for them because they are being separated, shut down, ignored, and retaliated against. We have to be their voices.”

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