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Triggers and Vulnerabilities: Why California Prisons Are So Vulnerable to COVID-19, and What to Do About It

On Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle published a shocking, heartbreaking chronicle of COVID-19 spread.[1] The author, April Harris, documented the suffering, neglect, and mismanagement that surrounded her as she tested positive and saw ineffectual efforts at isolation around her. Harris is in prison at the California Institute for Women, which saw a severe COVID-19 outbreak, and a glance at the numbers show that her harrowing experience characterizes the state’s bumbling response to the pandemic in prison in general.

At the time of writing this, the infection rate at San Quentin has passed the 1,000 mark.[2] There are almost 5,000 cases of COVID-19 in California prisons—eight times the infection rate in the general state population—and only a third of the prison population has been tested. Out of the 120,000 people incarcerated in California prisons, Gov. Newsom has so far ordered the release of 3,500 people with upcoming release dates (within 30 days.)[3] A new order is set to expedite the releases of people whose release dates are upcoming in the next 6 months – another 3,500 people.[4] Like many of the recent, post-recession criminal justice reforms, these plans exclude people convicted of violent crimes, even though they have much higher rates of success after their release and, given their age and lengthy incarceration,[5] are far more at risk not only of contagion, but of hospitalization and death.

Through a glass darkly

The crisis at San Quentin, brought about by a botched transfer of untested people from the California Institute of Men in Chino, has prompted activists and family members of incarcerated people to protest against the indifference and mismanagement.[6] But what we currently see in prisons state-wide has deeper roots. To fully explain the unfolding pandemic crisis in California’s correctional institutions, I rely on the framework proposed by Ben Bernanke, Director of the Federal Reserve, to explain the 2008 financial crisis.[7] Bernanke saw the crisis as a confluence of triggers—the particular, immediate causes that touched off the market crash—and vulnerabilities: structural, fundamental weaknesses in the financial system and its federal regulation. Similarly, it is helpful to think of the COVID-19 crisis not merely as an acute situation of pandemic mismanagement by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), but as the confluence of the virus and existing structural, administrative, and cultural-political conditions, some of which have persisted for decades and some of which emerged from well-intentioned litigation devised, ironically, to improve healthcare outcomes behind bars.

Background: Healthcare in California Prisons Before Brown v. Plata

The Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Plata (2011)[8] stands out as the first opinion that includes pictures[9]; whatever is missing from Justice Kennedy’s opinion is depicted in the images. For decades, the California prison health care system had failed to provide minimally adequate service to the prisoners. In the late 2000s, it was taken out of the hands of the state and into those of a federal receiver.[10] Even this drastic step failed to considerably improve matters. Despite eating up more than a fourth of the California correctional budget[11], the healthcare system was a reign of chaos and neglect. Every six days, a prisoner would die from a preventable (sometimes iatrogenic) condition[12]. The case’s namesake was emblematic: Marciano Plata hurt himself in 1997 in the course of working in the prison kitchen. Unable to get adequate medical attention because of insufficient medical staffing, Plata’s condition worsened to the point that his knee required surgery, which took years to schedule.[13]

Throughout the two decades leading to the federal three-judge-panel decision, California prisons were grossly overcrowded at near 200% of their design capacity. “Bad beds”—triple bunks and makeshift beds in hallways and gyms—were a common sight in the system. These conditions hindered the system’s ability to provide basic healthcare for several reasons. Correctional medical personnel were (and still are) difficult to hire and retain, because of California’s unattractive correctional geography: large institutions in remote, rural locations.[14] Providing for necessities such as housing, clothing, and feeding on such a scale required considerable compromises in quality, making it difficult to introduce preventative health measures.[15] This problem was compounded by California’s increasingly lengthy sentences: as a consequence of repeated “public safety” legislation adding sentencing enhancements, a fourth of the prison population, to this day, is serving a life sentence, producing an aging population in poor health, which requires more chronic and expensive healthcare.[16] Under these circumstances, registration and pharmaceutical services were disorganized and dated. Even when people were finally taken to medical appointments, they would be required to wait for long hours in tiny holding cages without access to bathrooms. Taking prisoners to medical appointments often required lockdowns, which in turn created more delays and administrative hassles. And the prisoners’ medical complaints were regularly trivialized and disbelieved–not, usually, out of sadism, but out of fatigue and indifference in the face of so much need.

The Era of Plata: Recession-Era Reforms and Their Limitations

The late 2000s were years of transformation not only in California, but nationwide, due to a confluence of events. The advent of the 2008 financial crisis plunged state and local governments into a deep recession, which awakened interest in local budgets, of which correctional expenditures were a considerable share.[17] The realization that incarceration on such a scale was financially unsustainable created the opportunity for bipartisan coalitions at the state and federal levels,[18] dovetailing with the Obama Administration’s focus on criminal justice reform and racial justice.[19]  Part and parcel of these coalition-building efforts was the need to focus the proposed reforms on low-hanging fruit, in the form of politically palatable populations, such as nonviolent drug offenders, which received the bulk of reformist attention on the right[20] as well as on the left.[21]

Against this backdrop, the 2009 three-judge-panel decision in California was historically important, but not out of step with the limitations of post-recession reforms: Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), the panel ordered a reduction of California’s prison population to 137.5% of system-wide design capacity—admittedly, a drastic population cut that the state would continue to fight tooth and nail all the way to the Supreme Court—but shied away from specifying how the population reduction was to be done. Theoretically, the state could have built more prisons to alleviate overcrowding, but recession-era cuts impeded this course of action.[22] In 2011, as Plata made its way to the Supreme Court, Gov. Brown continued the path charted by his predecessor, Gov. Schwarzenegger[23], and signed extensive legislation that many considered “the greatest experiment” in American corrections.[24] Under the Criminal Justice Realignment,[25] people convicted of “non-non-non” offenses—nonviolent, nonsexual, nonserious—would serve their sentence in county jails, rather than in state prisons, eliminating the “correctional free lunch” problem of sentencing at the county level and spending money on the state level.[26] Judges were given more discretion regarding sentencing, to alleviate incarceration and, in most cases, parole supervision functions were transferred to community probation offices.

From State to Counties

The implementation of Realignment meant that tens of thousands of people, who were under the auspices (and financial responsibility) of the state, would now be housed, clothed, and fed at the county level. The general sense was that counties would be better positioned to connect people with rehabilitation and reentry services, and that healthcare at the state level was so dire that the counties would surely do better.[27]

Nonetheless, Margo Schlanger raised the prospect of a “hydra problem”:[28] in lieu of one jurisdiction, there would now be sixty—the state and the 59 counties—to contend with, and possibly litigate against. Behind this concern was the fact that jails, originally built to house people only for short terms (pretrial or for less than a year), were ill-equipped to deal with a population in need of both acute and chronic healthcare—as well as the controversial formula for funding the county systems.[29] The extent to which counties proved equal to the task varied greatly: while some counties made efforts to prevent incarceration well ahead of the anticipated legislation and court decisions, others, in panic, started building jails[30] or changing revenue structures to roll expenses onto the inmates themselves.[31] The gaps in implementation were also reflected in divergent reliance on incarceration among judges in different counties.[32]

Bifurcation and the Violent/Nonviolent Dichotomy

Related to the “hydra problem” was the fact that the new sentencing and jurisdictional rules applied only to the “non-non-nons”, which were considered an easier “sell” from a public appeal perspective. Realignment was not unique in that respect. Generally speaking, recession-era reforms were characterized by a bifurcation element: they applied to nonviolent offenders and retrenched negative public opinion about so-called violent offenders.

This distinction was based on several empirically unfounded myths, the first of which was that the American correctional predicament was due mostly to the incarceration of non-level offenders. In fact, drug offenders—the recipients of bipartisan sympathies, and justifiably so given the racial disparities in drug enforcement—have constantly been no more than a fourth of the prison population nationwide, whereas people convicted of violent offenses were at least half.[33] A related myth was the perception that violent offenders posed a greater risk to public safety—which, when empirically tested, proved to be untrue.[34]

In California, specifically, the focus on the crime of conviction led the legal system to ignore a fourth of the prison population—the people serving the state’s three most extreme sentence: incarceration on death row, life without parole, and life with parole. Because of the rarity of executions in California and the rarity of release on parole, these three punishments merged into an “extreme punishment trifecta,”[35] consisting of decades behind bars. Greatly overlapping with this category were prisoners aged 50 and above[36] who, as a consequence of serving extremely lengthy sentences, had not only aged out of crime,[37] but also incurred disabilities and chronic health conditions. Well-meaning reforms, therefore, calcified public opinion against the people who were wrongly perceived to pose risks (to public safety) while, at the same time, facing increased risks (because of their age and failing health.) California’s political culture, which is uniquely polarized and populistic,[38] lends itself to emotional arguments building on heinous (albeit very rare) violent crimes, and public opinion has been remarkably resistant to the idea of distinguishing between, and extending compassion to, people convicted of violent crimes.

Another well-meaning aspect of the Plata reforms was that the court order required a population reduction in the system as a whole, rather than per individual institution. Part of the vagueness of the order was due to the already-extreme measure of relying on the PLRA to require an enormous state-wide effort. However, the choice of litigation strategy also mattered. By contrast to European and international standards, which measure humane incarceration standards based on a minimal square area per prisoner,[39] the order in California did not go so far as to ensure that each inmate would have adequate space—only that the average inmate in the entire system would. For years after the Plata decision, there was considerable variety in the occupation rates of state prisons, with some prisons still at pre-Plata capacity while others were at capacity or even slightly below. The impact of the decision, therefore, was not uniform as to all inmates.

Crisis and Mismanagement

Against the backdrop of these vulnerabilities—fragmented correctional institutions, rising to divergent standards and accountable to different local governments, a legacy of challenges providing minimal healthcare, uneven occupancy rates, and the perception that public opinion is dead-set against the release of violent prisoners—came the triggers: the pandemic and a few crucial mismanagement steps by CDCR and by county jails. Some of these problems are evident from CDCR’s own tracking tool, but some we know about only from journalistic exposés—especially the ones pertaining to local jails. As of June 29, CDCR has tested about a third of its prison population, but testing rates range widely, from 97% at Amador to 11.4% at Chuckawalla. At San Quentin, currently in the eye of the storm, 62% of the population—2,154 out of its total population of 3,50—has been tested, and there are 1,021 confirmed cases—a rate of almost 50%. San Quentin is occupied at 113% of its design capacity, and the virus is ravaging death row;[40] if death row isolation, where people are housed in single-occupancy cells, is not sufficient protection from contagion, it is unclear where and how the prison can prevent contagion through social distancing.

The contagion on death row raises unique issues. In 2019, after decades in which the state had sentenced people to death only to see them languish for decades on death row, waiting for legal representation to enable them postconviction litigation, Gov. Newsom placed a moratorium on the death penalty. During these decades—and even now, because the death penalty is still on the books—the state has spent billions of dollars “tinkering with the machinery of death” by litigating minute technicalities of executions, such as the type and number of drugs to be injected.[41] Extensive appellate proceedings have gotten into the minutiae of convicts’ physical and mental health, to ensure that they are healthy enough to be killed by the state. This endless technical litigation seems particularly absurd as hundreds of inmates might face a death sentence via COVID-19. Even those who might secretly harbor the thought that such a sentence on death row might be appropriate would be surprised to know that capital trials are notoriously arbitrary and inefficient, and do not effectively single out “the worst of the worst” for capital punishment.[42] Who ends up on death row is not necessarily a function of the heinousness of the crime, but rather of the quality of the theatrical spectacle for the jury.

An additional trigger is the mismanagement of transfers between institutions during the pandemic. Reportedly, the outbreak at San Quentin is a function of a botched transfer of prisoners from the California Institute of Men in Chino, the site of a serious (and now almost abated) contagion. The prisoners were not tested before being transferred.[43] This scenario then replicated itself: prisoners from San Quentin, in turn, were transferred to the California Correctional Center in Susanville and not tested or quarantined upon arrival[44], resulting in 214—almost 10% of the prison’s tested population. While another prison in Susanville, High Desert State Prison, has only seen four cases so far, testing rates there are remarkably low and it is overcrowded at 154% of its capacity, raising concerns about the possibility of preventing much worse outcomes through social distancing.

Beyond the concerns for people behind bars are the concerns for the effect of prison contagion on the surrounding communities. CDCR confirms 391 cases among its staff, 89 of which are at San Quentin. Comparing CDCR data about infections within the prison with the Los Angeles Times statistics for the neighboring counties shows a temporal link between the outbreak at San Quentin and the soaring number of cases in the surrounding community. Similarly, the spike in cases in Lassen County occurred after the outbreak at CCC. In both cases, without contact tracing, it is impossible to provide an airtight causal story; the temporal link, however, raises serious concerns that incubating the virus in prisons puts the entire community at risk.

The interplay between the prison and the community seems to have finally driven home the point that prisoners reside in the county in which the prison is located, whether or not they are being “counted” as such. Realizing that Lassen County people’s health depends, in part, on health outcomes inside Lassen County’s prisons, Brian and Megan Dahle, respectively a Senator and an Assembly Member for Lassen County’s First District wrote a letter to CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz, asking him “to provide answers on questionable protocols that have led to a surge of inmate #COVID19 cases in Lassen County.”[45] Reportedly, despite arguments about jurisdiction, the prison and county are finally working together to test the prison population.[46] This collaboration is less likely to play out in Marin County, where the identity and livelihood of the community is less tied to its local prison than at Susanville, “Prison Town, U.S.A.”[47]

The concerns about prison outbreaks, at this point, exceed the scenarios at San Quentin and at CCC, even those are the most acute. A careful look at the CDCR contagion data reveals several locations at which the status of contagion is still unclear given the lack of testing and the paucity of information about transfers—what Donald Rumsfeld referred to, in a different context, as the “known unknowns.”[48] In some prisons, the outbreak seems to have reached its peak and abated; in others, it continues unabated. Some prisons have only a handful of cases; because these prisons, for the most part, have tested only a small percentage of their population, it is impossible to know whether contagion has been contained or the few cases are the beginning of a serious outbreak. And while several prisons have had no cases at all, it remains to be seen whether administrative blunders in the form of population transfers or insufficient staff protocols will introduce the virus into these institutions.

Finally, there is another important “known unknown”: the situation in most of California’s county jails. Several jail outbreaks have reported, notably at San Bernardino, Riverside,[49] Fresno and Tulare counties;[50] in none of these counties does the Sheriff’s Department provide any statistics on infections and hospitalizations on its webpage. Indeed, UCLA’S new data collection project on COVID-19 in correctional institutions impressively covers state and federal prisons, but only a handful of jails, because information is so scant. The lack of reliable statistics on county jail infections statewide, in itself, is an important social fact, which undergirds Schlanger’s “hydra problem”: by contrast to CDCR, who provides an informative tracking tool, the 59 counties have different approaches as to reportage, and even those who report statistics do not do so in a uniform manner. This fragmentation hinders our ability to track down interactions between correctional outbreaks in county jails and spikes in the surrounding counties. Moreover, transfers between prisons and jails remain invisible.

What Is to Be Done?

A consideration of the triggers and vulnerabilities in California corrections should have led the state to release a much more considerable number of inmates. To effectively prevent contagion and death, prison releases should have paralleled the orders of magnitude from Plata—tens of thousands, rather than a few thousands. Careful consideration of public health priorities should have been made months ago, as correctional scholars repeatedly and publicly recommended.[51] The current state of emergency, in which prisons are Petri dishes for COVID-19, calls for triage.

The Governor holds several “levers” that open prison doors—via early release policies, commutations, parole hearings, and resentencing. It is imperative to let go of concerns about the optics of releasing people who, decades ago, were sentenced for violent crime, and to follow risk assessments that prioritize aging and failing health.

It is equally essential to make a concerted effort to dramatically ramp up testing, so as to test as close to 100% of the prison population as possible. The muddled picture of infection needs to clear up considerably before we can effectively trace the points of contact between prisons and the community.

Prison authorities must exercise extreme caution when transferring people between facilities. No transfers must be made to institutions that have no active cases. Similarly, messaging and instructions to staff must take into account their crucial role in prevention.

Finally, county jails are a hidden but important dimension of the COVID-19 challenge. Counties should liaise with CDCR and install matching tracking tools for each county jail.

In 1777, John Howard visited prisons in England and Wales, and concluded:

There are prisons, into which whoever looks will, at first sight of the people confined there, be convinced, that there is some great error in the management of them; the sallow meagre countenances declare, without words, that they are very miserable; many who went in healthy, are in a few months changed into emaciated dejected objects. Some are seen pining under diseases, “sick and in prison;” expiring on the floors, in loathsome cells, of pestilential fevers, and the confluent small-pox; victims, I must say not to the cruelty, but I will say to the inattention, of sheriffs, and gentlemen in the commission of the peace. . . The cause of this distress is, that many prisons are scantily supplied, and some almost totally unprovided with the necessaries of life.[52]

Where the blame lies, and whether it is cruelty or inattention, matters less than the pressing need to overcome this crisis; mostly, it is paramount to understand that prisons are not separate from the communities in which they are located. Prisons are part of the community, and prisoners are members of the community, and prevention strategies must see them as such.

Hadar Aviram is professor of law at UC Hastings Law School in San Francisco and author of Cheap on Crime: Recession-Era Politics and the Transformation of American Punishment (UC Press, 2015) and Yesterday’s Monsters: The Manson Family Cases and the Illusion of Parole (UC Press, 2020). She is a member of the California and Israel Bars. Her blog, California Correctional Crisis, covers criminal justice policy in California.


[1] Jason Fagone, “Women’s Prison Journal: State Inmate’s Daily Diary During Pandemic”, San Francisco Chronicle, June 12, 2020:

[2] California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Population COVID-19 Tracking, accessible at

[3] Paige St. John, “California to Release 3,500 Inmates Early as Coronavirus Spreads Inside Prisons,” Los Angeles Times, March 31, 2020,

[4] Associated Press, “Newsom Says 3,500 More Inmates May be Released to Slow Spread of Coronavirus in California prisons,” KTLA News, June 30, 2020,

[5] Heather Harris, Justin Goss, Joseph Hayes, Alexandria Gumbs, “California’s Prison Population,” Public Policy Institute of California, 2017,

[6] Megan Cassidy and Jason Fagone, “Coronavirus tears through San Quentin’s Death Row; condemned inmate dead of unknown cause,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 25, 2020,

[7] Ben Bernanke, “Some Reflections on the Crisis and the Policy Response,” Public Speech at At the Russell Sage Foundation and The Century Foundation Conference on “Rethinking Finance,” New York, New York, April 13, 2012, at

[8] Brown v. Plata, 563 U.S. 493 (2011).

[9] Dahlia Lithwick, “Show, Don’t Tell: Do Photographs of California’s Overcrowded Prisons Belong in a Supreme Court Decision About Those Prisons?” Slate, May 23, 2011,

[10] Joe Infantino, “California Turns a Corner in Effort To Regain Prison Health Care Oversight,” California Healthline, Oct. 15, 2015,

[11] The most recent CDCR budget, totaling $13.4 billion, devotes $3.6 billion to healthcare. California Public Safety Budget 20-21,

[12] Adam Liptak, “Justices, 5-4, Tell California to Cut Prisoner Population,” New York Times, May 23, 2011,,Plata%2C%20No.

[13] Jonathan Simon, Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prisons in America, New York: The New Press, 2014.

[14] Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California, Oakland: University of California Press, 2006.

[15] Emily Widra, “Incarceration shortens life expectancy,” Prison Policy Initiative, June 26, 2017,

[16] Harris et al., “California’s Prison Population,” supra note 5.

[17] Hadar Aviram, Cheap on Crime: Recession-Era Politics and the Transformation of American Punishment, Oakland: University of California Press, 2015.

[18] David Dagan and Steven M. Teles, Prison Break: Why Conservatives Turned Against Mass Incarceration, New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

[19] Barack Obama, “The President’s Role in Advancing Criminal Justice Reform,” Harvard Law Review 130, 811 (2017),

[20] Dagan and Teles, Prison Break, supra note 18.

[21] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, New York: The New Press, 2010. For a critique of Alexander’s excessive focus on drug crimes, see James Forman, “Racial Critiques of Mass Incarceration: Beyond the New Jim Crow,” New York University Law Review 87: 101-150 (2012).

[22] This was not so much out of resistance to private entrepreneurs, but due to fierce objection on the part of California’s prison guards’ union, which protested against a prison built by a private company on speculation: Joshua Page, The Toughest Beat: Politics, Punishment, and the Prison Officers Union in California, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. In 2013, the state did, however, enter a contract to operate this speculative prison, the California City Correctional Center (CAC). Christine Bedell, “Cal City Prison to House State Inmates”,, Oct. 25, 2013.

[23] Joan Petersilia, “A Retrospective View of Corrections Reform in the Schwarzenegger Administration,” Federal Sentencing Reporter 22(3) 148-153 (2010).

[24] Charis Kubrin and Caroll Seron, eds. The Great Experiment: Realigning Criminal Justice in California and Beyond, the Annals of of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 664(1) (special volume), 2016.

[25] Assembly Bill 2019.

[26] Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins, The Scale of Imprisonment, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991, 211; W. David Ball, “Defunding State Prisons”, 50 Criminal Law Bulletin 1060-1089 (2014).

[27] Margo Schlanger, “Plata v. Brown and Realignment: Jails, Prisons, Courts, and Politics”,  Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 48(1), 2013: 165-215.

[28] Schlanger, ibid.

[29] David Ball, “Tough on Crime (on the State ‘s Dime): How Violent Crime Does Not Drive California Counties’ Incarceration Rates – And Why it Should”, 28 Georgia State L. Rev. 987-1084 (2012).

[30] Alex Emslie, Julie Small, Lisa Pickoff-White, “Realignment 5 Years On: Counties Build Jails for Inmates With Mental Illness”, KQED–The California Report, Sep. 29, 2016,,nonviolent%20or%20non%2Dsex%20offenses.&text=It’s%20been%20about%20a%20%242.5%20billion%20windfall%20for%20jail%20construction%20in%20California.

[31] Michael Carona, “Pay-To-Stay Programs in California Jails”, Michigan Law Review First Impressions 106, 104 (2007).

[32] Magnus Lofstrom and Brandon Martin, “ Public Safety Realignment: Impacts So Far,” Public Policy Institute of California, September, 2015,

[33] John Pfaff, Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform, New York: Basic Books, 2017.

[34] Susan Turner, “Moving California Corrections from an Offense- to Risk-Based System,” UC Irvine Law Review 8, 97-120 (2018).

[35] Hadar Aviram, Yesterday’s Monsters: The Manson Family Cases and the Illusion of Parole, Oakland: University of California Press, 2020.

[36] Harris et al., “California’s Prison Population,” supra note 5.

[37] The relationship between age and crime is one of the most stable findings of life-course criminology. For a useful summary see Marc Mauer, “Long-Term Sentences: Time to Reconsider the Scale of Punishment”, The Sentencing Project, November 15, 2018,

[38] Vanessa Barker, The Politics of Imprisonment How the Democratic Process Shapes the Way America Punishes Offenders, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. California’s culture can also be seen as somewhat overlapping the punitive politics that Mona Lynch identifies with the “sunbelt”, even though there are important differences between California and Arizona in that respect: Mona Lynch, Sunbelt Justice: Arizona and the Transformation of American Punishment, Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2009. An important component of California’s punitive culture is the strength of its prison guards’ union and its strong ties to influential victims’ rights organizations: Joshua Page, The Toughest Beat, supra note 22.

[39] Holly Cartner, Prison Conditions in Romania, Human Rights Watch, 1992, 8. Eric Goldstein, Prison Conditions in Israel and in the Occupied Territories, Human Rights Watch, 1991, 29.

[40] Cassidy and Fagone, “Coronavirus Tears Through San Quentin’s Death Row”, supra note 6.

[41] Hadar Aviram and Ryan S. Newby, “Death Row Economics: The Rise of Fiscally Prudent Anti-Death-Penalty Activism,” Criminal Justice 28: 33-41 (2013).

[42] Sarah Beth Kaufman, American Roulette: The Social Logic of Death Penalty Sentencing Trials, Oakland: University of California Press, 2020; Paul Kaplan, Murder Stories: Ideological Narratives in Capital Punishment, Lanham: Lexington Books, 2012.

[43] Cassidy and Fagone, “Coronavirus Tears Through San Quentin’s Death Row,” supra note 6.

[44] Staff, “COVID-19 Outbreak Infects Inmates, Staff at Susanville’s Two Prisons,” Lassen County Times, June 26, 2020,

[45] Megan Dahle for Assembly Facebook Page, post dated June 26, 2020,

[46] Staff, “Prisons Cooperate with Local Officials in COVID-19 Testing,” Lassen County Times, June 26, 2020,

[47] Prison Town, USA [film]. (PBS, 2007; dir. Katie Galloway, Po Hutchins).

[48] Donald Rumsfeld, Department of Defense Briefing, February 12, 2002. Quoted in David A. Graham, “Rumsfeld’s Knowns and Unknowns: The Intellectual History of a Quip,” The Atlantic, March 27, 2014,

[49] Rich Tarpening, “Coronavirus Cases Increase in Both San Bernardino and Riverside County Jails,” KASQ Channel 3, June 27, 2020,

[50] Anthony Galaviz, “Positive Tests in Tulare County, Death at Avenal Prison Add to Coronavirus Inmate Toll,” The Fresno Bee, June 27, 2020, at:

[51] Margo Schlanger and Sonja Starr, “Four Things Every Prison System Must Do Today,” Slate, March 27, 2000,; Sharon Dolovich, “Every Public Official with the Power to Decarcerate Must Exercise That Power Now”, The Appeal, April 20, 2020,

[52] John Howard, The State of the Prisons in England and Wales, with an Account of Some Foreign Prisons (1977), cited in Andrew Barrett and Chris Harrison (eds.), Crime and Punishment in England: A Sourcebook (London: UCL Press, 1999), 173.

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