A new study highlights the lack of basic necessities in prisons amidst the pandemic and the consequential effects hampering Black women who have loved ones behind bars.

The findings are published in a report titled "The Lives on the Line: Women with Incarcerated Loved Ones and the Impact of COVID-19 Behind Bars."

According to the research, one third of the people who participated in a survey said their incarcerated loved ones don't have access to medical care. Another 16% said social distancing is not practiced in the facility where their loved ones stay. In addition, only 7% of the participants said their family members in prison have adequate access to basic necessities such as soap and disinfectant. 

As their loved ones face exasperated challenges in prison, women at home are carrying a greater burden. That includes financial hardship, increased childcare responsibilities and isolation as well as physical and psychological stressors.

Gina Clayton-Johnson, founder and executive director of Essie Justice Group, said the researchers condemn the government's "failure to intervene in the increasingly dangerous conditions for Black and Brown families hardest hit by mass criminalization.” 

“When COVID-19 hit, we knew that the dual crises of the pandemic and mass incarceration would fall heavily on women caretakers and disproportionately on Black women,” Clayton-Johnson said in a statement to Blavity. “That is because 1 in 2 Black women today have a loved one behind bars."

Essie Justice Group and Color of Change, two organizations fighting for human rights, based the research on a survey conducted from May 5 to June 7. The report received 709 responses from women throughout the country.

Among the findings, 62% of respondents said their loved ones behind bars are scared they will lose their lives to COVID 19. In addition, 52% of the participants said their incarcerated loved one has at least one underlying medical condition, putting them at “high-risk” for severe illness or complications if they contract COVID-19.

Erika Maye, deputy senior director of criminal justice campaigns for Color Of Change, said incarcerated people and their loved ones are dealing with multiple pandemics, including racism and mass incarceration as well as COVID-19, which is affecting their mental health.

“Most prisons and jails have cancelled in-person visits and increased restrictions on how often and for how long people can talk to their loved ones by phone, leading to increased feelings of anxiety and isolation," Maye said. "In addition to demanding the release of incarcerated people, we’re calling on the Senate to pass the Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act and lower the cost for families to stay connected with incarcerated loved ones.” 

The researched also highlighted the number of people who are concerned about their loved ones being deprived of their due process due to COVID.  While 33% of the participants said their loved one’s attorney meetings had been canceled, 11% reported that their family member's release date had been delayed due to COVID-19.

Rena Karefa-Johnson, director of campaigns and advocacy at Essie Justice Group, said it's Black women who have stepped up in thid time of crisis.

“Black women with incarcerated loved ones are the unseen, uncompensated care-workers on the front lines in the fight against the virus behind bars, powerfully advocating for their loved ones and organizing to provide them with essentials like masks, soap and even food,” Karefa-Johnson said.

According to 92% of the women who took the survey, they would be able to shelter their loved ones if released from prison to quarantine. The experience of incarcerated people and their family members has continued to get worse, the study concluded.

At the San Quentin State Prison in California, for example, more than 2,240 of incarcerated individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 as of July. Twenty five have died from the coronavirus at the same facility as of Aug. 19. 

“The California Department of Corrections has a way of criminalizing families; of treating us like we did something wrong for loving an incarcerated person, as if incarcerated people don't need love,” said Mia Shells, Essie Justice Group Member. “That is why we're demanding the safe return of our loved ones.” 

Advocates are also demanding for the closure of prisons, jails and detention centers, as well as improved health and safety measures in the facilities and increased access to loved ones, including free phone calls and video visits. In addition, the report is focused on making sure delays in court closures and programs do not extend loved ones’ incarceration.

According to the Equal Justice Initiative, the coronavirus has infected nearly 160,000 incarcerated individuals and staff while killing at least 1,002 people in the facilities nationwide. The rate of incarcerated people getting infected during the pandemic is more than five times higher than the nation’s overall rate, the Equal Justice Initiative reported.

The lack of social distancing, coupled with the issue of overcrowding has exacerbated the challenge, according to researchers.