July 11, 2020 / 3:23 AM / a month ago

California to release 8,000 prisoners to slow pandemic

FILE PHOTO: A general view of Pod F at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, a ICE (Immigrations & Customs Enforcement) federal detention center privately owned and operated by prison contractor CoreCivic, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in San Diego, California, U.S., April 11, 2020. REUTERS/Bing Guan/File Photo

(Reuters) - California will release up to 8,000 inmates early from state prisons to slow the spread of COVID-19 inside facilities, state authorities said on Friday.

Several California prisons have suffered large coronavirus outbreaks and the state corrections department said inmates could be eligible for release by the end of August.

The release marks the biggest move yet by California to “decompress” prison populations and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission by creating more space for social distancing and quarantines.

“These actions are taken to provide for the health and safety of the incarcerated population and staff,” California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Ralph Diaz said in a statement.

Prisoners with a year or less left to serve will be eligible for release. Among prisoners excluded from early release are those convicted of violent felonies and sex crimes, the department said.

The move follows a reduction in inmate populations statewide by around 10,000 since the pandemic began.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Thursday nearly 2,400 people in California’s 35 prisons have tested positive for the coronavirus, including 1,314 at San Quentin State Prison north of San Francisco.

Reporting By Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Richard Chang

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