Genoa Barrow | Sacramento Observer Senior Staff Writer

A COVID-19 outbreak at the Sacramento County Main Jail and Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center (RCCC) is reawakening concerns for inmates safety during the continued pandemic.

Sacramento County Public Health and Correctional Health are investigating 32 positive cases at the main jail and 37 at RCCC. All 69 cases are in unvaccinated individuals. 

Chevon R. Kothari, chief deputy director at the California Department of Social Services, says the outbreak was confirmed on October 18. Staff, Kothari said, are attempting to identify the source.

“We are working closely with Correctional Health staff to conduct contact tracing and mitigate the spread,” echoed Sacramento County Public Health Officer, Dr. Olivia Kasirye. “Quarantine protocols are in place and extensive testing is being done.”

The County Jail is located in Downtown Sacramento and the RCCC is located in Elk Grove.

RCCC is the primary custody facility for inmates sentenced to County Jail from the Sacramento County Courts. While some are parole violators being held pending hearings, many are state and federal prisoners heading to other jurisdictions.

Activists say the numbers speak to a wider concern, a failure to protect a vulnerable population.

“It is no surprise that we have an aggressive COVID-19 outbreak in the jails. With more than 40% of county residents not fully vaccinated, and our jails housing 3,200 people, this is a perfect storm for a public health disaster,”  said Lynne Berkley-Baskin, co-founder of the Justice2Jobs Coalition, a Sacramento-based group that advocates for reform in the criminal justice system.

“Sacramento County’s jailed population reflects deeply embedded, historic racist practices, such as disproportionate policing of Black and Brown communities which reflects in prosecution and judicial findings. Our outcomes of incarcerating Black residents are seven times the rate of white residents. Now is the time to find alternatives to confined, congregate trauma and death traps, and instead invest in restorative and rehabilitative opportunities. County leaders, elected and administrative, have a moral, ethical and legal responsibility to keep them safe. A jail release in some form is the moral and ethical response,” continued Berkley-Baskin, who is also a member of the Greater Sacramento NAACP’s Executive Committee.

Greater Sacramento NAACP President Betty Williams has been demanding answers since inmates’ families began voicing concern about the facilities’ adherence to COVID-19 safety measures. The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office cancelled jail visitation back in January when positive cases swelled to 300.

The facilities, Kothari said, utilize four separate quarantine pods, one for new arrivals, a second for those who test positive for COVID-19, and two others for inmates who come in contact with positive individuals.

There have been 1,994 total cases in the jails as of October 20. Sheriff Dept. staff oversee and manage the inmates day to day. Correctional health staff provide medical care as they did prior to the pandemic. No deaths have been reported in jail facilities. 

According to the California Department of Social Services, any inmate exhibiting symptoms consistent with the CDC COVID-19 symptom list are tested.  Those who are exposed to a symptomatic individual are also tested. Inmates are offered vaccinations, officials say, but the shots are a personal choice, just as they are among those who aren’t incarcerated.