Coronavirus transfers from San Quentin prison now on indefinite pause

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on Wednesday imposed an "indefinite pause" on further coronavirus-related transfers from San Quentin, KTVU has learned. 

Transfers for reasons other than coronavirus, such as emergency medical care, will continue. 

"This is a good thing," said Don Specter of the Prison Law Office, who along with other attorneys have been fighting to release medically vulnerable prisoners from custody during the pandemic. He was told the news firsthand. 

It was not made clear how long transfers will be put on hold.

But the decision came two days after 26 incarcerated men at San Quentin were taken by bus to Corcoran State Prison, where there is now a coronavirus outbreak. It also came after a vocal protest by attorneys last week to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who argued that transfers seem to violate stay-at-home orders and cautions against travel. The attorneys were also joined by activists who started a petition to the governor to urge the release, not transfer, those in prison. 

At this point, Specter noted, San Quentin has relatively fewer coronavirus cases than other prisons and so keeping people there is now safer than moving them around to other facilities where the virus count is higher.

While his goal, along with other prison rights advocates, is ultimately to get medically vulnerable inmates released from custody, Specter noted that transferring older and sick inmates to other prisons across the state could be an even deadlier disaster.

CDCR spokeswoman Dana Simas said that after Monday's transfer of 26 people from San Quentin to Corcoran, "no additional medically high-risk transfers planned."

On the prison website, CDCR notes officials are working to provide safer housing for medically, high-risk people by relocating them from open dorm settings to housing with solid doors.

 CDCR also noted that the 26 transferred inmates tested negative for COVID twice before moving to Corcoran and are on a 14-day quarantine. They will also be tested again before being allowed out of quarantine. 

As of Wednesday, 103 prisoners - including five in the last two days -- have died of coronavirus since the outbreak began, the prison system reported. 

In October, the First District Court of Appeal ruled that the prison system had to reduce the population at San Quentin, where 28 people have died of COVID-19, by more than 1,000 people, either by releasing them or transferring them to other prisons.

The prison system has appealed this ruling. 

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at or call her at (510) 874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez.