Prison Radio
Richard A. Valdez

This is Richard Valdez, coming to you from San Quentin State Prison, California. The following commentary is titled, “COVID Update from San Quentin’s Death Row.”

On Monday, July 18th, 2022, the East Block Condemned Unit was once again placed on medical quarantine. This is now the third time that this has happened in nearly a three-month span of time. This right during the same period the isolated, condemned population in San Quentin has not been allowed any in-person contact visiting. This, once again, is the result of San Quentin’s continuing negligence in their enforcement and adherence to establish COVID protocols and guidelines among their own employees.

What this means for prisoners under the medical quarantine designation? This means, any inmate in a quarantine unit, including those who have not tested positive, are restricted to: no in-person visiting, including legal visiting; no video visiting, even though this form of visit was introduced to the prison system to keep inmates connected to their loved ones when in-person visiting was restricted; no group religious services; and no programming almost whatsoever. Any programming that is allowed under such a designation is highly restrictive. And it’s bad enough that the condemned population was already being subjected to only three days of yard a week when they once enjoyed yard seven days a week. But now, they have been reduced to almost no program and nearly complete isolation from the outside world, save for allowed phone calls and mail.

San Quentin is enforcing this quarantine based solely on one case, when it is required to have three positive cases before doing so. It should be noted that in the past, nearly several months, each time the condemned population was placed on quarantine status, it has been just prior to a major holiday weekend, or just as the prison was going to have to resume normal programming for them. From an outside perspective, the way that this quarantine designation is now being used by San Quentin, one can almost conclude that it is being used as a means to deprive a specific population their programs, and not in the manner that they were intended for.

This most recent case conveniently came up the week that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) changed their COVID policies to make them more friendly for prisons to safely reopen, and so that individual units that had no outbreaks or infections could resume normal programming. It was during this week that San Quentin’s medical staff began to come around and ask if inmates in East Block wanted to take a COVID test. This, despite the fact that for nearly a month prior, when outbreaks and quarantines were being placed on other units in the prison, medical staff not once came around to ask East Block condemned inmates if they wanted to test. It was only when the program was slated to resume that they finally came to test this isolated part of the population, and conveniently found one positive case, giving them an excuse to slap the “medical quarantine” tag on them. This also gave San Quentin their excuse to extend what has already been a prolonged period lasting nearly three months restricted programming, including not being able to see loved ones through visitation.

So why does this keep happening and why is it being allowed to continue to take place? No accountability. The quarantine policies and restrictions being utilized by San Quentin are their new way to deprive those who aren’t even infected with the COVID virus any form of positive programming, including the ability to see their loved ones through visits.

San Quentin has the ability to test inmates prior to a visit, yet they elect not to do so. Instead, they choose to just outright deny inmate visiting altogether, including video visits, this despite the fact that they test inmates after visiting to ensure that COVID is not introduced to the inmate population via outside visitors. HEPA filters were installed in visiting rooms in order for the prisons to resume in-person contact visiting safely. Yet even this is not considered when they decide to outright deny visits under the quarantine designation. It is unfair to those inmates who are not COVID-positive, as well as their loved ones. To deny even video visits during these periods, when they were introduced for this purpose, is unfair. One cannot contract COVID virus through a video screen. The CDCR needs to make more changes to these COVID policies so that inmates’ rights remain protected and individual prisons aren’t allowed to use them to infringe upon them.

If those who are listening out there feel that what is taking place here in San Quentin is unfair, and cruel and unusual, please help us by contacting California Governor Gavin Newsom, California state legislators, CDCR Secretary Kathleen Allison and CDCR Director Connie Gipson, as well as the head of California Correctional Health Care Services.

Request that they immediately make changes to these policies to ensure that those who reside behind these walls, as well as their loved ones, aren’t subjected to any more month-long periods of not being able to see one another. Ask them to come up with better policies that will ensure that those who aren’t even COVID-positive are protected from being subjected to month-long periods with no positive programming opportunities. Question why they still aren’t holding anyone accountable for these continued outbreaks, yet they are electing to punish the inmate populace and their loved ones with harsh restrictions. Please be our advocates and voices on the outside to bring about needed change. Help us to stop what is unfairly taking place here.

These commentaries are recorded by Prison Radio.