CORONAVIRUS: The Prison Tsunami

Despite early warnings, jails and prisons have seen a rapid spread of the virus — a humanitarian disaster that puts all of our communities, and lives, at risk.

Weeks before the first reported cases of COVID-19 in prisons and jails, correctional healthcare experts warned that all the worst aspects of the U.S. criminal justice system — overcrowded, aging facilities lacking sanitary conditions and where medical care is, at best, sparse; too many older prisoners with underlying illnesses; regular flow of staff, guards, healthcare workers in and out of facilities — would leave detention facilities, and their surrounding communities, vulnerable to outbreaks.

Despite those early warnings, even jails and prisons that believed they were well-prepared have seen a rapid spread of the virus.

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THE FINGERPRINTS OF GOD

Multiple factors are responsible for the alarming death rates that black, brown, Native American and poor white communities are experiencing from the novel coronavirus.

Mendacious, misanthropic political leadership. A so-called health care system driven by profit and not human flourishing. An economic reality where even the below-a-living-wage money earned by poor and working-class people is siphoned off to the wealthy via tax cuts and tax policies that force wage earners to pay a larger share than dividend earners.

I am a preacher. So as I dust the COVID-19 crime scene, I am ultimately in search of theological fingerprints.

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ISOLATION & QUARANTINE AT AVENAL STATE PRISON

130 additional people have tested positive for COVID-19, including 115 inmates at Avenal State Prison.

Positive cases of coronavirus at the prison have increased significantly since May 18.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says the prison is currently testing as many inmates and staff as possible and following isolation and quarantine guidance to help slow the spread of the virus.

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SLOW MOVING WARDEN JETTISONED

Federal officials have reassigned the warden of a Louisiana prison where the coronavirus has ravaged the compound, leaving eight inmates dead and infecting dozens of other prisoners and staffers.

The Bureau of Prisons said Friday that Oakdale, Louisiana, warden Rodney Myers had been assigned to “temporary duty” at the bureau’s South Central Regional Office in Texas.

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COOK COUNTY JAIL GETS HELP FROM COLORADO NURSE

Kyle Mullica came to Chicago to fight COVID-19 on the front lines, picking one of the hottest spots in the city: the Cook County Jail.

“It was intense. It was a lot of hours. It was difficult being away from my family,” said Mullica, a registered nurse who works in the emergency room of a Colorado hospital.

He put his skills to use in Division 10, working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, totaling five weeks straight.

“There’s this sense of duty, and a sense of calling on things like this. I wanted to use the skill that I had,” said Mullica, who also serves as a state representative in Colorado.

So with his wife’s support, he left home.

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MORE TESTING = MORE CASES

Louisiana’s prison system this week began “mass testing” at a second state correctional facility.

The results show two-thirds of inmates who contracted COVID-19 between two prison facilities the agency considers “hot spots” tested positive without showing symptoms.

At the all-female prison facilities in St. Gabriel and Jetson, a total of 317 inmates tested positive, including 210 who were asymptomatic. The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections started testing all inmates at the facility where women are housed at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center weeks ago, after noticing it was a hot spot.

Two coronavirus-related inmate deaths stemmed from women’s facility in St. Gabriel.

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DOUBLE-STANDARD OR PRECEDENT FOR EARLY RELEASE: Kwame Kilpatrick, Michael Cohen, Michael Avenatti, Paul Manafort

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick will be released from federal prison.

Kilpatrick was sentenced to 28 years behind bars, convicted in 2013 on 24 felony counts of public corruption for a criminal racket involving extortion, bribery, conspiracy and fraud. Prosecutors said he used his positions as a state representative and then mayor to enrich himself and his friends.

He was not expected to be paroled until 2037.

According to a Friday news release from the Ebony Foundation, Kilpatrick has been granted early release after serving only seven years of his lengthy sentence.

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THE CASE OF THE MISSING HAND SANITIZER

Earlier this spring, a group of educators donated tens of thousands of dollars worth of hand sanitizer and soap to the Illinois Department of Corrections in an effort to help inmates protect themselves from the coronavirus.

But some inmates and their loved ones say prisoners have yet to benefit from this donation, and that more cleaning supplies are needed.

After Illinois prisons closed to visitors and outside groups working in the prison, educators from the Illinois Coalition for Higher Education in Prison (IL-CHEP) wanted to find a way to help their students and other incarcerated people during the pandemic.

Rebecca Ginsburg, who leads a college-in-prison program that offers University of Illinois classes to incarcerated men at the Danville Correctional Center, says IL-CHEP reached out to prison staff to ask what they could do.

“And the response to that was: we would really appreciate sanitizer and masks,” Ginsburg says. “That was when it became clear that our roles were going to change from being that of educators to being among the parties that are working hard to do our best to ensure that our students and others who are locked up stay healthy and stay alive.”

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THE SLOW DEATH SENTENCE

Some male prisoners who test positive but are then cleared as noncontagious are sent by the Michigan Department of Corrections to the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility.

The 2,362-bed prison, where Larry Smith is housed, is in Adrian, a small city about 70 miles southwest of Detroit. There, they are quarantined in a 120-bed “step-down unit” until after they test negative.

Within days of officials opening the step-down unit at Gus Harrison, the virus surfaced in the prison’s general population.

Smith, who is asthmatic and immunocompromised, worries it was introduced into  the general population by corrections officers traveling between the two prison wings and has filed a complaint to the prison’s warden about it.

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MASS TESTING IN MARYLAND

Following calls from prisoner advocates and employee unions, Maryland will undertake universal testing at state prisons and juvenile centers, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday.

Six state prison inmates have died from the coronavirus so far, and hundreds of inmates and employees have tested positive for the virus. Juvenile facilities have also experienced outbreaks, including the Silver Oak Academy in Carroll County, where dozens of children and staff tested positive.

“There are thousands of people who need this to be true and factual in order to stay healthy and keep their families healthy and the people they oversee healthy.”

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