As we know, our prison system is overcrowded and often filled with people fighting wrongful conviction cases

14 May 2020   |   by Carson Dougherty
Our panel of experts advise the very nature of prisons means they are set up to act as a breeding ground for infectious diseases, if one were to run rampant.

People sleep 12-to-a-room, hundreds dine together in a big hall, and there is limited movement, with most being restricted indoors at this time. Inmates are given one bar of soap per week to be used for both personal hygiene and laundry. This ration barely lasts the week, and a large number of prisoners don’t have the money to buy a second bar. At the same time, workers are coming in and out of the prison, having had contact with and exposure to the outside world without the proper protective gear.

As we know, our prison system is overcrowded and often filled with people fighting wrongful conviction cases. In a recent episode of Everyday Injustice Podcast by Davis Vanguard Media, one such wrongful conviction case was highlighted. In the episode, we heard powerful testimony from Attorney Timothy Milner and Clemency Advocate and founder of Can Do Clemency, Amy Povah.

We are in a pandemic which creates incredible urgency because once the virus gets into a prison system it takes off like a fire in a dry barn. I was in prison for 9 years and when the flu season came ...around it was impossible for us not to contract it simply because of the living situation [...] being on top of eachother and just not having the proper protective gear to wear [...] we need the wheels for these bureaucratic agencies [...] such as the dept of corrections to be able to act more swiftly to an emergency - to a crisis

Amy Povah

Prisoners, they don’t have a voice. This is life and death. If we just wait and see this is what we could have done, people are going to die, prisoners are going to die. The set up right now is unfair, we need some forward thinking visionaries to help out” “It is time, even though we’ve all got a lot on our plate, because we all have to deal with the pandemic, we have to stop and give a voice to those who don’t have one. We need to help all prisoners who have got a situation where their lives are in danger, who, no matter what they were sentenced for, it was not supposed to be a death sentence but now it is

An inmate at RJD correctional facility in San Diego was also interviewed.

"RJD was built to hold 2400 inmates; it has 3900. He says morale is at an all time low and that inmates are kept separate from each other, except at meal time (where 150 of them gather together), yet none of the staff members entering the prison are wearing masks or any other personal protective equipment to protect the inmates. He says staff are also only being asked a couple of questions as a screening process to enter work, “so we are quite concerned about our close proximity to staff.”

As of April 21st the Washington Post reports “This month, the Bureau of Prisons took the rare step of imposing a nationwide lockdown, with all 146,000 inmates ordered to stay in their cells. With inconsistent access to soap and disinfectant and social distancing difficult to maintain, American prisons are becoming incubators for the coronavirus. Thousands of inmates are getting sick, and guards are spreading the virus back out to the larger community. This week, a single Ohio prison has become a top hot spot in the country, with 1,950 inmates — 78 percent of the prison population — testing positive for the virus.”

Another April 21st article says it well: “Staff and union officials are furious at the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ leadership, alleging that the lack of preparation and disjointed response has led to dangerous working conditions and allowed the coronavirus outbreak to spiral out of control in prisons. Nearly 500 inmates and more than 300 staff have tested positive for COVID-19 at 59 BOP facilities across the country. Twenty-two inmates have died.”

The situation continues to worsen. As of April 29th a new shocking figure emerged “figures provided by the Bureau of Prisons show that out of 2,700 tests systemwide, nearly 2,000 have come back positive, strongly suggesting there are far more COVID-19 cases left uncovered”. The same article says “Advocates and even prison guards have been calling for reforms to head off outbreaks in a prison system plagued for years by violence, misconduct and staffing shortages. Nearly 350 staff members have tested positive.” “Staff are sent around the country to pick up shifts, and union officials say the shortages are still so severe that officers are sometimes working 24 hours in a row. At a prison in Elkton, Ohio, where seven inmates have died, the governor called in the National Guard to help supplement medical staff.”

Fort Worth and San Pedro prisons have reported even worse than the Ohio prison numbers above. According to the Daily Breeze , as of April 29, “Since mass testing began, more than 1,000 inmates — nearly the entire Terminal Island population — have been tested, and 570 of those prisoners were deemed positive.

The next highest number of infected inmates in the 45-prison federal system is at Fort Worth, Texas, where 298 tested positive and three have died from COVID-19.” The family members and prisoners at Terminal Island “ complain that not enough is being done to stem the outbreak at the 82-year-old facility. One woman whose brother is serving six years for bank robbery said he and other prisoners have been moved to an old, dank warehouse.“It’s too cold to sleep. There’s pigeons and bats flying around with feces and feathers everywhere,” said the Los Angeles woman. “It’s a hazardous situation.”

As you can see the situation is dire. Masks have started to come in, but as the Vice article above states, not all of them comply with FDA standards, even counterfeits have arrived. And while some prisons have testing equipment, according to the above PBS article, others like the “Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal lockup in New York City housing 1,700 inmates, (had) only nine nasal swab test kits late last month, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of hundreds of inmates there”.

Help us get the proper equipment to these prisons fast. ““That is a recipe for disaster,” said Gavin Yamey, director of Duke University’s Center for Policy Impact in Global Health. Yamey said anything that increases transmission in detention centers represents a serious public health threat because the virus will not stay contained to just prisoners. “They are already more vulnerable because of prison conditions, and now we are compelling them to put themselves at even higher risk.” (quote found here)

Help us save lives by joining AVVAKEND and The American Justice Alliance in the COMBAT COVID campaign to raise awareness and funds to provide personal protective equipment ( PPEs) face masks, soaps and sanitizers to underrepresented, vulnerable and in-need communities. (Please visit our GoFundMe Here)