“Help, we’re dying” is written on signs on the cell windows of Cook County Jail in Chicago. As the ongoing pandemic spreads globally, incarcerated and detained individuals are left to be the most vulnerable as they are unable to avoid close contact with others and frequently wash their hands.
Prisons are normally located far from populated regions, creating a lack of accessibility to good quality health care. In addition to this, hand sanitizer is deemed contraband, and soap may not be extensively available.
Many incarcerated people have tested positive for COVID-19. Experts and workers in the prison system expect that the illness will expand immensely in a facility once someone is contaminated.
Currently, CNN reports the biggest cluster of COVID-19 cases is the Cook County Jail in Chicago. The county sheriff’s office said on Wednesday that at least 276 detainees and 172 staff members have tested positive.
Inmates and detainees have been creating signs begging for their lives on their cell windows. The New York Post details that some of the messages read “We matter,” “No supply” and “We’re dying.” Only 21 of the prisoners who tested positive are at hospitals, and 36 are in recovery facilities.
California’s prisons have had a 700% increase of coronavirus cases in just a little over a week. Samuel Brown, an inmate at California State Prison, told CNN “You have people in Italy dying, people in Spain dying, people in America dying, people are panic buying, people are concerned and people are scared. And the truth of the matter is, prisoners are people. So we’re also afraid. And there’s a potential of us dying too.”
While some jails such as Cook County and Cuyahoga County Jail in Ohio are releasing high-risk detainees, others such as Texas, Florida and California are doing the exact opposite. The Innocence Project says that these facilities have been limiting and suspending visitations, on top of restricting the activity of prisoners.
This situation is very complicated. COVID-19 is a very threatening danger to the lives of inmates, and restricting their activities and movement can be extremely damaging to their physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Oregonlive reports that as of 4 days ago, there were eight known cases in Oregon prisons. Inmates at the Columbia River Correctional Facility staged a protest, pertaining to the dangerous conditions inside the facility, which include no access to soap for two days.
Oregon officials have also been sued by inmates, claiming that the Department of Corrections is not doing enough to fight the spread of COVID-19 in prisons. The federal suit is not asking for money, but is requesting administrators to supply proper healthcare and cleaning supplies, and to test those who have possibly been exposed. In addition, they are asking for prisons to permit six feet between individuals in facilities, and to release inmates if it is too full to follow these guidelines.
The plaintiffs vary in ages from 35 to 76, all having other health conditions making them high risk to the virus. One of them is assigned to the clean-up crew, and is forced to clean up bodily fluids such as vomit and blood. The suit declares that they were given a cleaning solution named Waxie Solsta 710. This solution is not an EPA-registered disinfectant against COVID-19.
You can help and get involved in combating the poor conditions in prisons during this time. The following are some of the ways The Innocence Project has listed as ways you can assist in fighting for humane environments in prison facilities:
- Send letters to your government officials to release elderly and medically vulnerable individuals. Read about what experts at The Justice Collaborative are asking for, and how you can send letters here.
- Demand action for people in NY State prisons by signing Color of Change’s petition
- Sign this petition asking for free phone calls for individuals in prison during the epidemic.
- Donate to community bail funds. Many people in jail are waiting for court dates, and haven’t been convicted of a crime. They are not able to afford bail, so they may be stuck inside of these prisons. Helping pay off these bails will assist in fighting the spread, as the jail populations will decrease. This is the National Bail Fund Network’s directory of bail funds by state so that you can find one near you.
- Donate to New York Parole Preparation Project, who are sending money to help people in prison purchase necessities such as canned foods and soap. They are also sending care packages.
- See how facilities are combating the pandemic at The Marshall Project: Tracking Prisons’ Response to Coronavirus
Faith, Rosenya. “Activities in Prison.” Legal Beagle, 6 May 2019, legalbeagle.com/8012878-activities-prison.html.
New York Post Video. “Prison Inmates with Coronavirus Beg for Their Lives: ‘Help, We’re Dying’.” New York Post, New York Post, 10 Apr. 2020, nypost.com/video/coronavirus-in-prison-inmates-beg-for-help-with-were-dying-signs/.
Ramakrishnan, Jayati. “Prison Inmates Sue Oregon Officials over Alleged Failures to Protect Them from Coronavirus.” Oregonlive, 7 Apr. 2020, www.oregonlive.com/coronavirus/2020/04/prison-inmates-sue-oregon-officials-over-alleged-failures-to-protect-them-from-coronavirus.html.
“The Coronavirus Has Reached Jails and Prisons – But You Can Still Help.” Innocence Project, 27 Mar. 2020, www.innocenceproject.org/coronavirus-covid-19-jail-prison-help/.
Yan, Holly. “Prisons and Jails across the US Are Turning into ‘Petri Dishes’ for Coronavirus. Staffers Are Falling Ill, Too.” CNN, Cable News Network, 9 Apr. 2020, www.cnn.com/2020/04/09/us/coronavirus-jails-prisons/index.html.