My Brother Was Condemned to Death—Then He Was Condemned to Covid-19

My brother, Billie Allen, has been fighting for his life on two fronts.

He has waged the first of these fights from federal death row, against a legal system that was not designed to find truth or enact real justice. He has waged the second fight from hospital beds, plagued by health issues that affect his very ability to prove his innocence.

As Billie’s sister—and his best friend—I am more than a witness. My brother’s fight is my fight. His loss of freedom is mine.

My fear has increased sharply these last months as both of my brother’s fights took a dangerous turn. As the lame-duck Trump administration continues its race to kill as many people on death row as it can before the inauguration—10 people on federal death row have been executed in less than six months, with three more execution dates scheduled before January 20—Billie’s name could be called at any time. And on December 16, as Covid-19 continued to rip through prisons, including federal death row, I received a phone call from my brother: Billie had tested positive for the virus.

When I heard the news, my stomach sank.

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COVID-19 And Illinois Prisons Virtual Town Hall

State Representative La Shawn K. Ford hosts a virtual town hall to discuss state prison conditions during COVID-19.

This town hall is a chance to convey concerns about the Illinois Department of Corrections.

When: Monday, January 11, 2021

Time: 5:30 PM to 6:30 PM

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People In Jails, Prisons Will Be Vaccinated In Next Phase

People incarcerated in Illinois will be among those vaccinated against coronavirus during the next phase, according to a newly released state plan.

People incarcerated in jails and prisons will be prioritized for vaccines along with people who are 65 and older, certain essential workers and people experiencing homelessness or residing in shelters.

They’ll all be given access to vaccines during the next phase, know as Phase 1B.

But it will be several weeks, if not months, before Phase 1B of vaccinations start. The state is currently focused on vaccinating health care workers and people living and working in long-term care facilities, like nursing homes.

People detained in Cook County Jail awaiting trial will be among those vaccinated during Phase 1B.

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COVID-19: Coming To A Jail Near You

Jails have become petri dishes for COVID-19.

The majority of people in jail have not been convicted of a crime, yet they are being exposed to the coronavirus. Those who cycle in and out of jails are also taking COVID-19 back into their homes, infecting Black, brown, and poor white communities.

There are almost 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States, the majority in state and federal prisons where people serve sentences of one year or longer, and turnover is slow. Yet in county jails where people serve short stints, there are more than ten million admittances every year, making it even more important to contain the spread of COVID-19 there. President-elect Joe Biden’s plan for the pandemic includes no mention of jails or prisons.

Even in the face of a global pandemic, the United States remains deeply wedded to mass incarceration.

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Stimulus, Round 2: Incarcerated People Will Be Eligible For New Round Of Payments

In the wake of the recently passed stimulus bill, many Americans are complaining about the paltry direct payments of $600.

Without detracting from Congress’s failure to support the millions of people who need help, it is worth pausing to acknowledge one unexpected victory in the bill: It contains no prohibition on stimulus payments for incarcerated people.

It’s a good thing that Congress stuck to the policy of including incarcerated people in the pool of eligible recipients.

Even before the pandemic, day-to-day life in prison and jail was getting expensive, with commissary charges for basic food and hygiene items, and increasingly common pay-to-play e-book and music programs.

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COVID-19 Compels America To Rethink Who We Lock Up In Prison

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the limits of our criminal justice system.

Now, we have an opportunity to change it for the better. We should start by following the science, advocating for our most vulnerable populations to have access to protections, treatments and vaccines.

Then we need to ask a bigger question — whether it makes sense to incarcerate so many people in the first place.

Even as the first doses of the vaccine are administered, we are in for a tough winter. And people locked up in prisons, jails and detention centers are among those most at risk of contracting COVID-19, becoming gravely ill, or worse.

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Support Parole Illinois: Benard Mckinley

Give the gift of resources this holiday season!

Parole Illinois is pushing for policy changes that help reverse cycles of violence and incarceration and give people like Benard a fair chance to be reviewed for release.

With your help, we can bring their stories to a wider audience and gain support for a system of Earned Discretionary Reentry that provides our loved ones opportunities to finally come home.

You can support us by making a donation:

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Support Parole Illinois: Janet Jackson

Give the gift of resources this holiday season!

Parole Illinois is pushing for policy changes that help reverse cycles of violence and incarceration and give people like Janet a fair chance to be reviewed for release.

With your help, we can bring their stories to a wider audience and gain support for a system of Earned Discretionary Reentry that provides our loved ones opportunities to finally come home.

You can support us by making a donation

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As COVID-19 Rips Through Cook County Jail, Time To Take A Hard Look In The Mirror

Whatever your opinions are regarding the ways we address the growing use of pretrial detention in America, I hope you’ll see that what is happening in Cook County Jail right now far exceeds the issue of bail. What we have is a human crisis that calls for action, compassion and courage.

This month, the jail hit an all-time high of more than 300 COVID-19 cases among the incarcerated population, and dozens among the jail staff. Scores of residents and public servants funnel in and out of the facility every day and return home to their communities. A hotspot at the jail creates a risk for all. Since the first COVID-19 case at the jail was reported in March, more than 1,100 people have tested positive inside the facility. Now with winter upon us, the jail’s infection totals have climbed back to April levels.

This threat to public health dictates that we must exhaust all avenues to drastically reduce the population of roughly 5,500 so social distancing is even an option inside the facility.

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IDOC COVID-19 Incarcerated Individual Contact Tracker

Since March, we’ve received more than 500 updates about conditions in Illinois prisons.

We are still using our tracker to monitor each prison. If you talk with an incarcerated person, please tell us about the conditions at their facility. We want to know if they have adequate access to phones and to video calls, if they are receiving hygiene and cleaning products, and whether there have been any other issues in their facilities.

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