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Medical Director of California Prison System Removed After Dubious Transfers Spike COVID-19 Counts

As a result, Tharratt was relieved of his duties by Governor Gavin Newsom on July 6.

Tharratt approved a transfer in May of 121 prisoners from the California Institution for Men in Chino, where more than 900 prisoners were infected, to multiple institutions, including San Quentin, where more than one-third had tested positive, and three died during the July Fourth weekend. California state prisons have been under the supervision of a federal court-appointed receiver for more than a decade, and the same receiver who had appointed Tharratt in 2010 was the one who replaced him.

Newsom was unhappy with the unusual prisoner movement. “They should not have been transferred,” he said. California Correctional Health Care Services agreed, stating that “mass movement of high-risk inmates between institutions without outbreaks is ill-advised and potentially dangerous (and) carries significant risk of spreading transmission of the disease between institutions.”

That opinion was echoed by infectious disease specialist Dr. Peter Chin-Hong: “As the inmates start to get sicker and require hospitalization, not only are Bay Area hospitals going to feel it, hospitals across the state are going to feel it,” he said, comparing the spread of the disease to a “California wildfire.”

U.S. District Court Judge Jon Tigar, who is hearing a lawsuit on conditions in California prisons, was critical of prison conditions that facilitated the rise in infections. “San Quentin provides a signal example of what can happen when an outbreak overwhelms an institution,” the judge said. “The number of inmate infections is undoubtedly even higher, because hundreds of inmates have refused to be tested.”

Newsom said he hoped that San Quentin, the state’s oldest prison, would be able to cut its prisoner count from 4,000 to 3,000, partly to relieve overcrowding. That in fact may prove to be the only long-term solution to a problem that continues to confound both state and federal authorities. 


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