With the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine this week bringing hope of an eventual end to the coronavirus pandemic, California will soon decide where prison inmates stand on the waiting list.
The Trump administration announced that federal prisoners will be in Phase 1 of the rollout. Eight states, including California, have announced vaccinations would come within weeks for prison inmates, which could be a shot in the arm to help eliminate the rampant spread of the virus among incarcerated individuals and prison staff.
California prisons have been a hotbed for the virus since the pandemic began in March, with 97 confirmed inmate deaths. The latest death on Friday was an inmate at the Correctional Training Facility, in Monterey County.
The California Department of Corrections said there were 7,982 active cases among inmates as of Friday, with 63 inmates receiving medical care outside their facilities. More than 227,000 federal and state inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and more than 1,600 have died.
In California, 8,199 prison staff have tested positive for the virus since March, with 2,611 current active staff cases. There have been nearly 57,000 cases and 105 deaths among prison staff nationwide.
Avenal State Prison, in Kings County, was the hardest hit with the COVID-19 pandemic, with 2,996 total cases since March, eight deaths, and 82 prisoners released while sick with the virus.
Avenal is home to one of Colusa County’s most notorious murderers.
Paul Moore, now 57, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for planting an explosive device that killed Roberto Ayala, of Grimes, in 2011, after Ayala turned on an irrigation pump at a rice field at the Moore Brothers farm. Ayala’s 7-year-old son witnessed the explosion.
The Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, also in Kings County, the second highest in coronavirus cases, saw the number of COVID-19 fatalities increase to six, as three more inmates died in the past week.
There has also been an increase in COVID-19 cases at High Desert State Prison, in Lassen County, which houses 40-year-old Nathan Ramizzini, who was convicted of the 1997 murder of his best friend, Eric Ingebretesen, when both boys were just 16.
High Desert has had 1,679 COVID-19 cases and one death.
Valley State Prison, in Madera County, has had 1,061 COVID-19 cases, although no death has been reported.
Valley houses Joshua Lee Valentine, 36, who was sentenced to 25-years-to-life, along with Ralph Dale Leon, for the brutal murder of Mary Lewis, who was found beaten, bound, and mutilated with a knife inside her home in Colusa in 2000, when the killers were just teenagers.
Leon, 38, is incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison, in Amador County, which has reported 927 COVID-19 cases and one death.
The Colusa County Jail, which held more than a dozen inmates sentenced in Colusa County Superior Court to state prison for more than seven months of the pandemic, has worked to keep COVID from spreading through its jail population, in part by keeping social distancing guidelines and limiting visitation, officials said.
“The jail staff has been doing an exceptional job,” said Assistant Sheriff Michael Bradwell, on Friday. “We have several screening procedures and plans in place to eliminate exposures to COVID-19. Fortunately, to this date, we have not had an inmate within our facility test positive for COVID-19.”
While the California Department of Corrections suspended prison admissions throughout most of the pandemic, the state did finally relieve Colusa County of their state prisoners in November, officials said.
The local jail, as of Friday, had just 39 prisoners incarcerated, with one pending transfer to state prison, Bradwell said. ♣