After weeks of pressure from family members and government officials, an inmate at Terminal Island federal prison walked out Thursday morning, leaving behind the growing coronavirus threat inside.
It was a long awaited reunion. Jovena Defrancia said she pushed for weeks to get prison officials to allow her husband, Jason Defrancia, to come home, saying she felt his safety and life were in danger after he got COVID-19.
They embraced for a long time, a day after their 16th wedding anniversary. Jason Defrancia was released following seven years at Terminal Island.
He was originally scheduled for release to a half-way house this coming October. Instead, he’s headed home to Hawaii.
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Jason Defrancia is believed to be one of the first inmates to leave the federal prison early due to COVID-19.
“It’s the best feeling. It's been horrors, the last couple of days and months and weeks. I am glad to have him home,” Jovena Defrancia said. “I fought hard for him. I fought really hard for him."
The NBC4 I-Team has been tracking coronavirus at the prison in San Pedro, lack of protective gear for inmates, and calls for the prison to follow recent federal directives qualifying more inmates for home confinement to fight the spread of the pandemic.
LA County data shows a spike of almost 900 percent at Terminal Island in just under three weeks. The total number of positive cases approaches 700.
“He just told me, ‘Ma, the prison needs help,’” Jovena Defrancia said.
She said her husband tested positive weeks ago and was kept in isolation, then put back into his unit. She found out this information only after it happened.
“‘Mana’ means ‘strong’ in Hawaiian. He has plenty of ‘mana,’” Joveva Defrancia said. “Every family should know whether they are positive or not."
It is estimated 46 inmates at the low-security prison have been reviewed for home confinement out of nearly 1100. Six of those inmates have been recommended. In an email, the bureau of prisons told the I-Team that it does not discuss plans for inmates.
They would, however, say that “case management staff are urgently reviewing all inmates to determine which ones meet the criteria established by the attorney general.”
Nationally, more than 2500 inmates have been placed on home confinement according to the bureau.
While home, Jason Defrancia, who was serving time for drug charges, will be monitored and go through a program. He will also finally see their son, who is now 14 years old, and their three other children.
“We’re never looking back. This is our last ride,” Jovena Defrancia said.
The bureau said it has recently limited inmate movement and expanded their testing as part of their COVID-19 response. Fifteen staff at Terminal Island have active COVID-19 cases.
This afternoon, the I-Team learned of an 8th inmate death. More than 500 inmates have recovered.