RAC-CA Calls on Governor Newsom to Reduce the Population in State Prisons

RAC-CA Calls on Governor Newsom to Reduce the Population in State Prisons


Many California prisons are overcrowded and lack basic hygiene options and health care resources. Unaddressed, this combination of factors will make COVID-19 outbreaks in our prisons inevitable. Urgent action is needed to reduce California’s prison population and improve conditions, in order to reduce the risk of infection of prisoners and guards, and to prevent California prisons from becoming an ongoing reservoir for the coronavirus to spread throughout California.

Urge Governor Newsom to reduce the population in state prisons and provide for the safe reentry of those released.


California state prisons hold more than 122,000 people – 35,000 more than they were designed for. This overcrowding makes social distancing and sanitary conditions impossible. Prisons are like an experiment designed to spread the coronavirus; there have already been cases noted within California’s prison system. They endanger both those incarcerated and those who work inside them. Making this problem even worse, the daily churn of staff and others in and out of these facilities means that a COVID-19 outbreak in jails and prisons will lead to the spread of COVID-19 in the households and communities where these employees return at the end of every shift. The following recommendations are in line with The Justice Collaborative Coalition.

In order to protect people who work and reside in prisons and all Californians, we should release as many prisoners as possible. The highest priority should be to release people who:

  • Are 60 years or older with less than five years left in their sentence;
  • Have less than five years left in their sentence and are at an especially high risk for fatality from COVID-19: the immuno-compromised and those with diabetes, heart disease, or respiratory conditions;
  • Have less than two years left on their sentence and are determined by the correction department to be low risk to public safety; and
  • Are held on probation and technical parole violation detainers or sentences or are soon to be eligible for parole.

Care must be taken so that people are released from incarceration in a way that does not increase their risk of catching COVID-19 or spreading it to others. The state should take the following measures when it releases people from prison:

  • Providing testing and/or quarantine for prisoners so they don’t spread the virus; and
  • Either ensuring that those released have a place to live with family or friends or providing a place to stay for those who don’t have a safe place.

Jewish Values

Jewish law upholds the principle of pikuach nefesh (saving a life) as a central mitzvah (responsibility to the Divine). This value is so central to Judaism that, if necessary to save a life, one is required to violate the Sabbath, eat forbidden foods, and eat on the fast day of Yom Kippur.

Jewish tradition also teaches that one has a responsibility to protect people from dangers posed to them under their authority. Deuteronomy 22:8 instructs, “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it.” 

Join our call by asking Governor Newsom to reduce the population in California state prisons and provide for the safe reentry of those who are released.

For More Information:

You can email your elected officials through this form, or you can call Governor Newsom at (916) 445-2841 to speak directly with his office.

For more information on this issue, visit the RAC-CA’s page on our website or contact RAC-CA organizers Lee Winkelman and Julie Saxe-Taller.