The California Highway Patrol on Monday arrested about a dozen protesters who chained themselves together in front of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Fair Oaks home, imploring him to release prison inmates and halt inmate transfers from prisons to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.
“There was 10 to 14 people that were chained to themselves and the gate that were obstructing public access,” said Greg Zumstein, CHP public information officer. “All of those people are going to be arrested for trespassing.”
The protest comes as prisons, jails and U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement detention centers in the state face COVID-19 outbreaks.
“Gov. Newsom, you are responsible for the COVID crisis that’s happening in prisons and jails,” one demonstrator yelled. “You must act now to save lives.”
Some demonstrators chained themselves to Newsom’s gate in front of his driveway in front of a sign that read, “Your actions save lives. Free them all.”
The demonstrators, which included some undocumented community organizers and immigration attorneys, are part of a group called the California Liberation Collective. Protesters called for mass clemency for people in state prisons.
Earlier this month, 60 state and local elected officials and 108 community organizations released a letter urging the governor to issue an executive order halting transfers to ICE detention centers from prisons and jails during the state of emergency caused by the pandemic. The letter described how detainees in three of California’s immigration detention centers have organized hunger strikes to call attention to overcrowding, and the lack of cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment.
Newsom’s administration has been releasing thousands of California prison inmates early as the corrections department seeks to free up space. Earlier this month, the department announced a plan to release up to 8,000 more before the end of August.
Newsom responded to the protest at his home during his virtual COVID-19 press briefing on Monday afternoon. He said the state was working diligently and methodically to address the issue.
“The worst thing we could do is mass release, where people are just released out to the streets and sidewalks, and end up in benches and up in parks, on the side of the road.” he said. “That’s not compassion, that would be … making the problem, in fact, worse.”
There have been 1,033 new coronavirus cases reported in the state’s prisons over the last two weeks, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Currently, the San Quentin State Prison and the California Correctional Institution have the highest number of active coronavirus cases in the state, 537 and 253 cases, respectively.
Overall, 47 inmates have died from COVID-19, according to the corrections department. The highest number of deaths have come from the San Quentin State Prison and the California Institution for Men.
More than 1,500 California prison employees have tested positive for the virus. Of that number, 645 have returned to work.
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