The Adjustment Center at California's San Quentin prison, often called the AC, has long served as the harshest of California’s death row units, usually used solely for solitary confinement of people whom officials consider a security threat, reports Type Investigations. Since June 2020, San Quentin has used its Adjustment Center as its primary unit for medical quarantine (defined as separating someone exposed to COVID) and medical isolation (separating someone with a confirmed or suspected case). Though the prison was widely criticized and even sued for its mismanagement during the pandemic, San Quentin has continued to send incarcerated people who have been exposed or infected to the notorious unit, including in the spring and summer of 2022, when outbreaks have been relatively less severe. Type Investigations and The American Prospect spoke to Wayne Hughes and more than a dozen other men, many in their sixties and seventies, who told stories of being medically quarantined or isolated in San Quentin’s Adjustment Center throughout the pandemic. Hughes and other inmates described being trapped in dirty cells in conditions that felt punitive. People said Adjustment Center staff would come around and hit the doors or shine a light into cells routinely throughout the day and night. Hughes said there was knocking or beeping every 15 to 20 minutes. Others described dirty cells and showers.
Many prisons and jails began relying on solitary confinement in an attempt to curb the spread in the early days of the pandemic, both to limit movement within facilities and to quarantine people who were infected or exposed. This strategy proved to be largely unsuccessful as the virus ravaged the incarcerated population. Many of the worst outbreaks occurred in high-density, often overcrowded correctional facilities, which tend to hold many people with pre-existing conditions, leading to death rates three times higher than in the general population. At the same time, prisons and jails have failed to adequately test or treat people with COVID-19. As of September 7, San Quentin was filled to 103 percent of its intended capacity. Fear of the harsh conditions awaiting prisoners in the AC made people less likely to alert medical staff when they are feeling sick, contributing to the spread. People repeatedly said conditions in the Adjustment Center made them feel like they were being punished, not treated for a serious illness. The official unit guidelines told inmates, “You will be handcuffed and escorted by staff during any movement within the unit.” The document lists other rules: two toilet flushes per hour, 30 minutes of phone access per day, and seven minutes per shower (“Use your time wisely.”). Hughes condemned AC protocol and said “If AC is supposed to be for quarantine, why are they treating us like we’re being punished for getting COVID?