If you thought the travesty of the Chino-Quentin transfer was the absolute rock bottom of prison management, prepare to dig. Today’s Chron reports that Dr. Matthew Willis, Marin County’s top health official, has written a letter to Judge Howard of the Marin Superior Court, in which he documents his efforts to get San Quentin officials to quarantine the incoming people from Chino–to no avail. Megan Cassidy reports:

Dr. Matthew Willis had learned that the 122 prisoners weren’t tested for weeks before they were transferred on May 30. Unless they were “radically sequestered” from the native population, Willis warned, the prison was setting the stage for a major outbreak.

This advice — given in a June 1 conference call with acting San Quentin Warden Ron Broomfield and other high-ranking prison staffers — was the first in a series of public health recommendations to be issued and ultimately dismissed by prison officials, Willis said in a letter to a Marin County Superior Court judge and in an interview Tuesday with The Chronicle.

You’ll want to click on the article and read Dr. Willis’ letter in full, as well as the astonishing letter he received. Prison officials forwarded him a letter written by CDCR’s General Counsel, Jennifer Neill, who wrote, “The State is not an entity under local health officers’ jurisdictions, and thus local health officer orders are not valid against the State.” Neill hadn’t even written the letter to Dr. Willis: she had written it to Kings County’s health officials when they offered advice regarding the horrific outbreak in Avenal. Go ahead, read it for yourself. I put a snippet of it above, to make sure you get the gist of it, but you need to see this with your own eyes.

As the horror settles in the pit of your stomach, let’s break this down:

  1. It was always obvious that prison outbreaks are connected to outbreaks in the surrounding counties (this should be obvious to you, too, by now; the virus doesn’t read the Penal Code.) Because of this, traditionally, there was communication between county health officials and the prison on matters of public health, such as the flu vaccine and an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease.
  2. There had already been an incident in which, rather than heeding advice from the people directly affected by the outbreaks in prison, CDCR decided to ignore the advice and instead jockey for position and squabble about jurisdiction. Outcome: several hundreds of people became infected and a few died.
  3. Then, months later, this occurred again. Again, the health official of the surrounding county offered advice. Again, CDCR chose to ignore the advice and instead jockey for position and squabble about jurisdiction. Indeed, they were apparently so pleased with how they had handled the previous incident that they didn’t even bother to write a new letter; instead, they simply forwarded the same letter to the health officials of the new county. Outcome: several thousands of people became infected and a few dozen died.

Friends, this is shocking. If all the previous warnings, all the alarm bells sounded by public health and criminal justice experts, did not suffice to prove that San Quentin officials, and the warden, exhibited deliberate indifference to the lives of the people under their supervision and care, this incident alone should make all of us sick to our stomachs.

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