As the effects of COVID-19 has begun to impact not only the health and safety of California residents, but also our economy and social systems, our state Governor Gavin Newsom has enacted new regulations for prisoners and parole. Prisons are a breeding ground for outbreaks, as many inmates have limited health care options, are packed into close quarters, and live in unsanitary conditions. To respond to such events, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) utilizes infectious disease response plans to limit the spread to at-risk groups and contain any infections among inmates, but the governor has also expanded their authority to modify sentencing for inmates in state prisons.
Freeze on Prison Transfers
As part of the governor’s executive order on March 24, 2020, the state of California is suspending the transfer of new inmates to state prisons for up to 30 days in order to limit the spread of COVID-19. Instead, inmates will remain at the county jail or correctional facility they are currently housed at. This order has the option to extend it for another 30 days through to May and if the Stay at Home Order stays in place beyond that point, the Secretary of the CDCR will likely continue to pause transfers.
In addition to transfers to state prisons, transfers of juveniles to other correctional facilities have also been suspended. If your child is currently in a juvenile correctional facility in California, they will remain there for the time being.
Timely Parole Hearings
As acknowledged by the governor, inmates have a constitutional right to timely parole hearings and court proceedings. Understandably, many courts across the country have closed their doors to the public and limited person-to-person contact in light of the virus. The state of California is no different, however, the governor has also issued an executive order requiring the Board of Parole Hearings to conduct hearings via videoconferencing no later than April 13, 2020.
Inmates who had parole hearings scheduled or delayed may continue the process via videoconferencing for up to 60 days with the option for it to be extended. All parole hearings disrupted by COVID-19 will be rescheduled for the earliest possible date, all rights awarded to inmates during hearings are still in place, and any restrictions on requesting a rescheduled hearing are now lifted.
As such, all inmates in a California state prison that have had their parole hearing postponed may request it be rescheduled via videoconferencing. In addition, every inmate still has the right to an attorney during these procedures and should not hesitate to contact him or her to ensure a fair hearing. Inmates also have the right to discuss their hearing with their attorney and prepare their case before the hearing takes place.
What If I’m out on Parole?
Individuals who are currently on parole are advised to only contact their parole officer by phone for the time being, per a statement from the CDCR. The parole offices will only be open for emergency meetings and all scheduled meetings are currently canceled until it is deemed safe for meetings to take place. If you are worrying that you may be in violation of your parole, you should contact your parole officer immediately to discuss your case.
There are also several temporary restrictions and regulations in place for parolees. Parolees who are classified as essential workers may continue to go to work, but all interstate transfers or travel in or out of the state of California is suspended for the time being. However, in some cases, you may be eligible for travel passes.
You Always Have a Right to an Attorney
In all California court proceedings, you have a right to sound legal counsel from an attorney. This remains in place during the COVID-19 and any adjustments to your prison sentence, transfers, and parole should be discussed with your criminal defense attorney. If you have questions about your rights at this time or need representation during a parole hearing, please contact the Law Office of Michael L. Guisti or review our PSA. We are still available online via email and by phone at (714) 530-9690 or toll-free at (888) 478-8999.