For almost 15 years as the founder and director of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, I have tried to make it clear that prisoners are human beings just like you and me. Our organization’s motto says, “To deny their humanity, is to deny your own.” As simple as that sounds, I have found myself arguing with people who see themselves separate from the more than two million people in this country whose lived experience is behind prison walls.
Covid-19 has made it clear that we are all in the midst of this pandemic together. The title of this article describes how most people have dealt with the presence of prisoners who live in the jails and prisons in our communities. I have read at least 10 news items in the last two weeks which have highlighted the coronavirus and its impact or possible impact on prisons and prisoners. This is something for all of us to consider.
First, what are the conditions in prison and how likely are prisoners to be in a position to carry out the recommendations of the CDC (Center for Disease Control)?
These facilities are not the most sanitary. Prisons are not hospitals. Prisoners sometimes have to deal with broken sinks, lack of soap, overcrowding and some staff members who are not shy about displaying their racial bias. Mass incarceration means that there are many people going in and coming out of these places of confinement every day. Prisoners, staff, and visitors could easily take the virus in or bring it out to the larger community.
Second, it has been suggested that prisons and jails should consider downsizing. Reducing the population inside means that social distancing is possible. This has worked with some prisons and jails around the country and outside of this country that have released some prisoners who do not pose a public safety concern, some convicted of minor crimes, some low risk elderly, and some being held who have not yet been convicted. Also, there are some with serious health conditions who deserve compassionate release. Once released, these people need food, clothing, and shelter. Some need immediate medical and mental care. If this prisoner has no family, who in society takes care of the issues that come with a prisoner’s release?
This leads us to the third consideration. There is no more inside and outside. We are all people… human beings connected. The prisoner may be out of sight, but he can’t be out of mind. Ultimately, his well-being depends on you. Whether it’s your tax dollars or your moral convictions or your vote. This pandemic has put the national election on the back burner for the time being. This distraction has taken us away from what happens next, in terms of who will lead this country. Criminal justice reform should be on the front burner. When thinking of the most vulnerable in our society, prisoners should be on that list.
The monthly meetings for PRISONERS ARE PEOLE TOO have been suspended until further notice.
Stay well. Stay safe.