How Jam-Packed Prisons Put Us All At Risk Of The Coronavirus Infection
America’s 2.3 million imprisoned people set our country’s crisis response effort apart from the rest of the world.
April 15, 2020 at 3:18 pm
Lisa Clinton was taken from her children and imprisoned after not having enough money to pay bail. In 2018 she was bailed out by activists and now she’s helping to lead an emergency “Black Mama’s Bail Out” to make sure Black mothers who can’t afford bail don’t die in jail during the coronavirus pandemic.
"We are in dire times and inaction is murder,” Clinton said. “Our people are being treated as threats instead of being treated as human beings who need care.
This is why Color Of Change’s 1.7 members are calling for the release of as many people as possible from U.S. jails and prisons during the coronavirus pandemic. Together, we are #TheBlackResponse to COVID-19 and this week we’re fighting to save the lives of imprisoned Black people.
Join the fight: Donate to The Black Mama’s Bail Out: Black children and our communities need our Black mamas, we can’t leave them in prison during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Michael Tyson, who died of coronavirus on Sunday, was incarcerated on Rikers Island for an alleged technical violation of parole.— Rebecca Kavanagh (@DrRJKavanagh) April 6, 2020
Meaning he did not commit a crime, but missed a meeting or violated curfew or tested positive for marijuana. https://t.co/TSGCu9n9Jl
U.S. Prisons Are a Public Health Threat
America’s 2.3 million imprisoned people set our country’s crisis response effort apart from the rest of the world. During the coronavirus pandemic, our overflowing, inhumane prisons have become a serious public health threat. In Chicago, 304 inmates and 313 staff have been infected at Cook County Jail, making it the top U.S. hotspot for the infection in the entire country. Already outbreaks are being reported in prisons across the country and in the communities that interact with them. This two-way spread will make it even harder for the U.S. to get this epidemic under control, both inside and outside of prison gates.
Life in these jails and prisons was already a nightmare before COVID-19 began. Now overcrowding within these cages makes social distancing impossible. Health care is shoddy at best and often downright negligent. Sanitation, including access to soap and even water, is an afterthought.
4/6 update on the Rikers COVID19 crisis: we are mourning the loss of Michael Tyson, only 53 & incarcerated on a tech parole violation. His death reminds us that for each number in the charts, there are real people who are scared and in harm's way stuck behind bars. #FreeThemAll pic.twitter.com/xlh6gGSpFH— Molly Griffard (@MollyGriffard) April 7, 2020
Join the fight: Sign on to the national demands to protect incarcerated people: Join the 70+ criminal justice organizations, lawyers and activists demanding a #HumaneOutbreakResponse in prisons.
We need to get as many people out of these disease pits as we can, especially the elderly and vulnerable. Officials have to do all they can to get people out of our jails and prisons and reduce the flow of people entering to lower the risk of disease.
Chicago area Cook County Jail detainee dies of COVID-19— Mike Crowley (@MichaelFCrowley) April 7, 2020
“So far, 234 detainees and 78 staff members in the jail had tested positive for the virus, according to the sheriff’s office. The status of inmates there has become controversial as it has spread.”
We Have to Release as Many People as Possible
We’re already seeing highly disproportionate death rates in Black communities. In Chicago, 70% of deaths have been Black people, in Milwaukie it's a terrifying 81%.
After decades of race-driven fear-mongering by police and politicians, the prison populations being attacked by neglect during the pandemic are also disproportionately Black. People stuck in New York City’s notorious Rikers jail are almost eight times more likely to get infected with coronavirus than the average resident of New York City, our nation’s epicenter of the sickness. They’re almost 60 times more at risk than the average American.
If we want to protect Black people from this pandemic, we have to decrease prison populations immediately.
Join the fight: Demand the release of as many people as possible: Anything short of releasing vulnerable people, like the elderly and chronically ill, is a death sentence.
In many places, these campaigns are working. New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have all reduced their jail populations by thousands, among many others. Unable to hold mass rallies, organizers are getting creative. In Philly, protestors in their cars jammed the streets around City Hall, honking their horns and making sure the mayor knew they wanted their friends, family members and loved ones let free.
Together we are #TheBlackResponse to COVID-19 and we’re fighting to save the lives of imprisoned Black people in our country.