By Marissa Perlman

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – What about the victims? That’s what local district attorneys are asking the state after two people facing life in prison were released this week in Yolo County over COVID-19 concerns.

The state says they need to protect the inmates and staff from COVID-19 and mitigate the spread. But some say that comes at a cost: the victims’ voice.

Over the past week, CBS13 has highlighted two victims affected by these early releases. These families are now afraid that someone they thought would spend their life in prison is walking free.

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It’s all because of a loophole, because of the pandemic.

Under the California constitution, victims have a right to be heard in regard to the release of inmates. Melinda Aiello, Deputy District Attorney in Yolo County, says victims’ voices aren’t being heard.

The state has released almost 15,000 inmates through the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Eight thousand more are expected to walk free by the end of next month.

Jay Jordan with Californians For Safety and Justice points to prison overcrowding as another reason why inmates are walking free.

“Now we are seeing people die because of COVID in prison, and it’s not just because of COVID, it’s because of overcrowding,” Jordan said. “California locks too many people up, we have to make tough decisions about who gets released.”

But in Yolo County, two victims’ families are furious after they weren’t told these violent offenders have been released. One inmate excessively harassed his ex-wife and threw a molotov cocktail at her while she was sleeping. Another woman is now walking free after she shot a man and drove for hours as he bled to death in the trunk of her car.

California penal code says it’s a victim’s right to object to an inmate’s release, so why do they not have the right to object now? The state cites a government code that says they can release an inmate without objection during “any emergency” which would endanger the lives of inmates.

That means during the COVID-19 crisis, there may not be any objections.

“Our biggest complaint or concern is that there is a lack of transparency and worse than that, the victims have been completely excluded from this process,” said Aiello.

CDCR did not offer them an explanation for the early release. A spokesperson sent CBS13 this link in response to our request for an explanation to the release, explaining the department’s goal to maximize space in prison in an effort to manage the spread of COVID-19.

Marissa Perlman

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