Expect an onslaught of prison deaths in the Fall of 2020

I have been remiss at writing on this blog for a while. My “prison reform energies” this past year have been focused on local politics, assisting with ensuring the reduction of the use of solitary, mandating body-cameras for law enforcement, and preventing the return of capital punishment. As a mentor to an incarcerated individual, I have worked with him to encourage writing about his experience. I will make every effort to assist him finding a publisher. He and others have been in lockdown for weeks now as the prison attempts to contain the rise of inmates and guards with COVID-19. Meals are hard-boiled eggs and sandwiches, delivered to the cells or dorms. There is no recreation. Quarantining the COVID-19 inmates to one particular tier hasn’t stopped the rise in cases.

Meanwhile, though, as COVID-19 increases for freed Americans, especially in Texas, Arizona and Florida, it rises exponentially for inmates. The prison I referenced in the first paragraph has had numbers of COVID-19 cases increase from 14 a month ago to 40 two weeks ago to now around 120. This is happening everywhere.

As we all become fixated on the national election, I suspect very little attention will be paid to those in prisons and jails. Indeed, a local reporter last week reported an increase of COVID-19 cases in New Mexico to around 500 for that day. He added to the effect of, “don’t worry, people, most of these were prisoners.” It seems as if the general public is so worried about itself – family, jobs, income – that folks behind bars are not even an afterthought or are simply expendable.

We need to allow early release for nonviolent offenders, confining them to home monitoring. Elder inmates, especially those with pre-existing conditions, should be released to family or some sort of halfway house or nursing facility. Persons in jails pretrial (not even convicted) who can’t afford bail should be released with some alternative incentive to show up to court. Those in jails and prisons for technical violations – violating parole or probation rules (about one-third of those locked up in New Mexico) -should be freed immediately under the former supervision of their parole or probation officers. Inmates close to their release dates – say within 6 months – should be freed.

Prisons and jails can not afford financially to care for staff and inmates with COVID-19. Medical staff – sometimes contractual, sometimes part-time – do not have the resources to handle the increased illnesses. Social distancing is impossible. Masks need to be cleaned properly and replaced. It will only get worse.

I hope I am wrong about the pending disaster. I really do.

#prisonsCOVID, #prisonersCOVID, #prisonreform