Families Upset As Access To Phones Cut Off For San Quentin Inmates In Effort To Slow Coronavirus Spread

Kathy Novak
July 15, 2020 - 10:20 am
A California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) officer wears a protective mask as he stands guard at the front gate of San Quentin State Prison on June 29, 2020 in San Quentin, California.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Related: The State Of California: The San Quentin Coronavirus Crisis

Another prisoner from the California Institution for Men in Chino has died after contracting COVID-19, bringing the total to 17 at that facility.

It was a transfer of men from that prison sparked the outbreak at San Quentin State Prison, where data from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows 1,302 prisoners are currently infected with the coronavirus. While the infection rate at the prison seems to have slowed with 502 new cases over the last 14 days, 11 San Quentin inmates have died from complications due to COVID-19.

In all, 36 prisoners have now died from the virus throughout the state's prison system.

Now, family members are upset about new restrictions that have been imposed, as access to phones have been cut off, along with various activities in the prison's recreation yard.

A screenshot of the policy change posted to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation website.
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Robyn Archuleta was speaking to her fiancé - who is on Death Row and infected with COVID-19 himself when news of the policy change was released.

"When we talkedthey started passing out memos stating that there was not going to be any phone calls...until further notice," Archuleta said.

In a written update, the Department of Corrections said the policy change is part of limiting movement and interaction to only critical contact. They added the decision was not taken lightly and that the department understands the burden it places on incarcerated people and their families.

"He was really frustrated," Archuleta told KCBS Radio. "We’re their lifelines. Some days when they’re having bad days, we’re probably the only ones that can change that day for them when they talk to us."

And she says it’s hard on her, too. 

"The unknown, like, when will be able to talk to him again," Archuleta said. "Is he okay? Does he have food?Is he eating right?"

On that front, at least, she said the news has been better since an outside vendor started supplying three daily meals.