By Ucedrah Osby, Kern Sol News

The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting everyone in Kern County, and our leaders need to do everything they can to mitigate the spread of this virus, including protecting the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated population in our region.

The virus cannot be contained within the confines of our county jails and state prisons. Every day more than 1,000 correction officers, sheriff’s deputies and support staff interact with the incarcerated population. These people travel back and forth from the jails and prisons to their homes and interact in our community. 

Earlier this month the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announced that it would release 185 county inmates who were expected to be released soon to state parole or county probation. This is part of an amplified effort to protect staff and incarcerated people in correctional facilities to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Governor Newsom announced 3,500 people who are in CDCR prisons that were scheduled to complete their sentences in the next 60 days could be released. This is a good start. Re-entry services during the COVID-19 pandemic must be made available to further the efforts to prevent the spread. 

Adequate housing and access to COVID-19 testing are imperative resources to stopping the spread. Those who are released with a need for emergency housing have a right to receive emergency housing vouchers that Governor Newsom has made available.

To date, there are no emergency funds available for people reintegrating into our community. Kern County decision makers, the people who have direct access to funding, have the potential to do better at providing emergency housing for every resident. It is my hope that this is mere oversight and can be easily fixed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Kern County needs to address the needs of our residents who are returning to our cities and towns. Basic human needs should be met. If people cannot be housed with family members, temporary housing should be offered so that they can stay safe during the pandemic. Since only essential businesses are operating, many places that the formerly incarcerated might seek work are simply shut down. Our returning residents are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who have completed their sentences and deserve the same access to resources so that they can be in a position to contribute to their families and to the broader community once this COVID-19 crisis is over. 

Kern County does not have a history of adequately meeting the re-entry needs of our returning residents. It’s my hope that our local leaders listen to advocates for restorative justice and anti-recidivism so that they can change course and help mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus for this vulnerable population and for the broader public health of our county. All of Us or None members are experts in re-entry needs and are available for further discussion.

Ucedrah Osby is president of the Bakersfield chapter of All of Us or None, a grassroots civil and human rights organization fighting for the rights of formerly and currently incarcerated people and their families.