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'It's like losing him all over again' | California ups early inmate release estimate amid objections

Family members of victims are outraged at the release from California's prison system.
Credit: AP
FILE - In this Aug. 16, 2016, file photo, a row of general population inmates walk in a line at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif. California state prison officials say in a July 27, 2020, court filing that as many as 17,600 inmates are eligible for release due to the coronavirus, 70% more than previously estimated and a total that victims and police say includes dangerous criminals who should stay locked up. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California state prison officials say as many as 17,600 inmates may be released early due to the coronavirus. 

That's 70% more than previously estimated and a total that victims and police say includes dangerous criminals who should stay locked up. 

The earlier releases also are causing consternation as probation officers and community organizations scramble to provide housing, transportation and other services for inmates who may pose a public health risk because several hundred have been paroled while still contagious. 

The Department of Corrections says inmates to be released fall into four categories:

  • 2100 awarded 12 weeks of good behavior, moving up their release date
  • 4800 with three months left to serve.
  • 700 with less than a year left to serve housed in large populations of high risk patients.
  • And, 6500 medically high risk for Covid-19.

Christine Ward, Executive Director, Crime Victims Alliance, said victims are "completely terrified and feel completely powerless" at the idea of people being released early from prison.

"Unfortunately, there are a lot of victims out there in the community that aren't registered with the Department of Corrections to receive notice about release of inmates," Ward said.

Melinda Aiello, the Yolo County Chief Assistant District Attorney, said victims should be included in this process. 

"They have a right to be heard and they should be included in this conversation as to who is being released into the community," Aiello said.

Officials have been under intense pressure to free more inmates, though officials say Corrections Secretary Ralph Diaz is likely to block some of the earlier releases. 

Inmate advocacy organizations like Friends Outside have been busy helping the ex-prisoners transition back into society.

"My guess is the majority that are coming out really don't want to go back in," Gretchen Newby, Executive Director of Friends Outside Stockton, said. "Under normal circumstances they wouldn't want to, but under the extreme incarceration being in a hot house environment with Covid is not a good place to be at all."

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