On April 21, RBGG’s Managing Partner Gay Grunfeld and Don Specter of Prison Law Office sent a letter to California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye asking her to take immediate steps to address the threat of COVID–19 in California’s 110 jails across the state. The letter and an appendix including extensive background of the problem are available here: Letter to Chief Justice re Effect of Covid-19 on California’s Jails, 04-21-2020
According to the letter: “The Prison Law Office and RBGG represent the majority of incarcerated people in California—including in CDCR’s 35 prisons and in jails across the State—in class action lawsuits seeking to ensure constitutionally adequate medical and mental health care and to protect people with disabilities. (Our organizations are counsel for certified classes of incarcerated people in the jails in the following counties: Alameda, Fresno, Monterey, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, and Yuba.) We write to inform you that ‘what is happening in real time in the jails’ is terrifying and poses a grave threat to not just the tens of thousands of people who live or work in the jails, but to the entire State. Already, the virus is within the walls of most California jails. And yet, notwithstanding efforts made by the Judicial Council, the State executive branch, and county Sheriffs, thousands of Californians are being needlessly brought into and kept in jail. We therefore urge you to exercise your authority and influence to take other steps to further reduce the jail population.”
The letter, which makes a number of recommendations for addressing COVID-19 in the jails concludes: “These steps will help reduce churning of individuals through the county jails and save lives. California needs to act quickly to stop the spread of contagion at its 110 jail facilities. Sheriff’s deputies have already died. Correctional officers, judges, attorneys, our clients, and their families are all at risk.”
On Friday, April 24 RBGG and PLO filed an amici curiae brief in the California Court of Appeal in a San Diego County case asking the appellate court to order the San Diego Superior Court to follow Emergency Rule 4, the Emergency Bail Schedule, recently promulgated by the California Judicial Council. The brief states that “Despite the clear language of the Emergency Bail Schedule, the San Diego Superior Court has refused to implement and comply with the order as written, but instead has carved out exceptions under which the Petitioners are being held in the county jail indefinitely.” This refusal to follow the order places all those living and working at the jail in overcrowded conditions at grave risk of contracting COVID-19.