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Imprisoned People, COVID-19 and Insight from Behind the Walls

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Photo of a black man wearing a knitted head covering

Left organizers are demanding protections for prisoners and immigrant detainees and prisoners themselves are making their voices heard in the 2020 election.

Critical Resistance has sounded the alarm:

“As enclosed and locked facilities, prisons, jails, and detention centers are uniquely positioned as places ripe for the rapid spread of diseases. As the Health Affairs journal notes, ‘Prisons push people into the path of pandemics.’ They are by nature unsafe and unhealthy institutions; with meager access to healthcare at best, and routine negligence and violence as the norm, imprisoned people will likely be among the hardest hit by COVID-19.”

No one’s life is any more or less valuable than anyone else’s. No one is safe unless everyone is safe. That’s our stance all the time. But it is more starkly apparent – and can be embraced by larger numbers of people – amid a crisis like the current one.

It is urgent to take action. Building on five important measures advocated by the Prison Policy Initiative listed here, Critical Resistance highlights a series of steps to demand including: Compassionate, Medical and Elder Release;  Release all people held in jails pre-trial; Release all people from detention centers and stop all immigration enforcement operations, and more.

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Campaigns are underway in various states to implement one or more of these measures. In California a broad coalition of justice organizations is pressing the Governor to take seven major steps, beginning with immediate release of all medically fragile adults, all adults over the age of 60 and all people who have anticipated release dates in 2020 or 2021; see the full list and find out more information about the campaign here. In Florida, a broad coalition of organization’s has also released a list of demands to the State Attorney General, the Eleventh Judicial Circuit, and officials in Miami-Dade County. Read their full letter and demands here.

Along with acting on these kinds of campaigns, it is a moment for those of us on the outside to realize that besides offering solidarity we have much to learn from people who are incarcerated. And not just about prisons, about all aspects of society, including the 2020 elections. As an example, check out this remarkable video from First Watch, produced by a team of people incarcerated in California’s San Quentin prison, who film  others in the prison asking questions of the Democratic Party presidential candidates:

If the electorate in general was as broad-minded, concerned about others, and knowledgeable about politics as the people at San Quentin, this country would be in a far better place.

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