California state prison officials are granting early release to as many as 17,600 inmates amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus in state prison facilities.
The Associated Press reported prison officials provided a federal judge with a new estimate of total planned releases, up from 10,400 to 17,600, an increase of nearly 70 percent. Among those inmates already released is Terebea Williams, 44, who served 19 years of an 84 years-to-life sentence for first-degree murder, carjacking and kidnapping. Williams was released after officials determined she was at high medical risk with coronavirus.
The first 3,500 inmates were released in April and 6,900 more inmates were deemed eligible for release in July.
A California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation official told Fox News the inmates being released included “700 eligible offenders who have less than one-year to serve who reside within identified institutions that house large populations of high-risk patients.” Another approximately 6,500 inmates were “identified by the court-appointed Federal Receiver as medically high-risk for complications should they contract COVID-19.”
The push for inmate releases comes after a mass outbreak of coronavirus at the San Quentin State Prison. 170 San Quentin inmates are still infected and 23 have died, including 11 death row inmates. Activists, some state lawmakers and at least two federal judges have joined calls for the state to process inmate releases.
Williams was convicted of carjacking Kevin “John” Ruska in 1998, forcing him into the trunk of his own car and shooting him when he tried to escape. Williams drove Ruska’s car more than 700 miles from Tacoma, Washington, to a motel in Davis, California where she tied him up and gagged him and he later died of an infection to his gunshot wound.
Ruska’s sister Dena Love decried Williams’ release in an interview with Fox News host Trace Gallagher.
“It’s absolutely devastating and mind-boggling that this has happened,” Love said. “And here we are, 22 years after his horrific murder. We’re right back in that same place that we were 22 years ago.”
Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig, whose office prosecuted Williams, reportedly complained about the releases, along with the advocacy group Crime Victims Alliance, who said victims and prosecutors are seeing little notice before the releases and no opportunity to object to the release decisions.
California Police Chiefs Association president Eric Nuñez told the Associated Press he understands some of the urgency for inmate releases but was concerned about the release of violent offenders “without a consideration for the larger impact on public safety.”
The mass releases have also reportedly put a strain on probation officers and community organizations to provide transportation and housing services for inmates being released.
“It has just been a total madhouse, quite frankly, and we’re doing this in the midst of a pandemic,”
Prison officials did tell the Associated Press that Corrections Secretary Ralph Diaz may block the release of about 5,500 inmates, many of whom are serving life sentences.