Eighteen prominent criminal justice and corrections scholars, including UC Hastings Law Professors Hadar Aviram, Rory Little and Mai Linh Spencer, as well as the ACLU of Northern California, are joining litigation as amici curiae brought on behalf of San Quentin prisoners facing danger from COVID-19 outbreaks there.
Aviram authored the “friend of the court” brief and is the counsel of record for the amici team. The brief was filed in Marin County Superior Court in a consolidated case, consisting of dozens of habeas corpus petitions by people incarcerated at San Quentin and facing risk of contagion, illness, and death.
Petitioners maintain that the Warden of San Quentin’s management of the prison, including the botched transfer of 122 people from the California Institute of Men in Chino without testing or quarantining them, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment under both the U.S. and California constitutions.
According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, there have been more than 2,000 COVID-19 cases at San Quentin and 26 deaths. Aviram has been covering the prison COVID crisis in her blog, sometimes posting daily.
In their brief, the scholars argue that state and prison officials had ample warning that a health crisis of this magnitude could occur at San Quentin, both from decades of watching a bloated system unable to provide basic healthcare, before and after the Brown v. Plata litigation, and from specific warnings they received about COVID-19 from criminal justice and public health experts. These warnings included several conversations with Marin County’s top health official, who recommended testing and quarantining the transferees from Chino.
They also argue that, in addition to the botched transfer of infected inmates from Chino to San Quentin, prison authorities failed to provide basic preventative measures, such as testing, protective equipment, and cohorting, even though they received offers of assistance.
“The amici urge the court to intervene, because political considerations and restrictive federal legislation stand in the way of other relief options,” Aviram said. “This is especially important given the considerable possibility of a recurrence of the outbreak at San Quentin, as has already happened in other prisons.”