COVID-19: It’s Not Too Late To Fight For Justice

The Covid-19 outbreaks now surging through many of the nation’s prisons and jails weren’t just predictable, they were predicted.

And not just by the prisoners themselves and their family members in increasingly desperate tones over the past month but also by some sheriffs and jailers and corrections officials and their union representatives.

And not just by those behind bars but by lawyers and doctors and criminal justice advocates and professors, hundreds of them, in every nook and cranny of the country, all of whom understood how dangerous and deadly the pandemic would be once it found its way into cramped, dirty, overcrowded cells.

These personal cries for help, these warnings, these personal essays from prisons, these reasoned arguments to release vulnerable prisoners — especially those whose sentences are about to expire and those in pretrial detention accused of nonviolent offenses — sounded everywhere.

And they were all a variation of the same theme: that prisons and jails were obvious breeding grounds for the virus, that it could not be contained behind bars, that the inevitable outbreaks wouldn’t just take or endanger the lives of prisoners but would kill prison staff and their extended families; in other words, that preventing the pandemic in prison would save lives on the outside.

To their eternal credit, some officials have heard the call and done the right thing.

Thousands of men and women were released from prisons and jails over the past month and many more should be released soon. But in too many other places, politicians and prosecutors waited for the virus to enter their facilities before acting to save prisoners.

And in some places even the spread of the virus and its obvious threat to everyone in or near a prison hasn’t been enough to convince some officials that there are more important “public safety” interests at stake than continuing to imprison at-risk people in the name of “justice.”