A Florida correctional officer polled his colleagues earlier this year in a private Facebook group: “Will you take the COVID-19 vaccine if offered?”
The answer from more than half: “Hell no.” Only 40 of the 475 respondents said yes.
The lack of COVID-19 protections in prisons show officials believe that inmates are less than human, that they do not deserve to be protected from death like everyone else, and that their lives do not matter.
Prisons have had 10 months to take measures to reduce their populations and save lives amidst the ongoing pandemic.
Yet our comparison of 13 states’ parole grant rates from 2019 and 2020 reveals that many have failed to utilize parole as a mechanism for releasing more people to the safety of their homes.
In over half of the states we studied—Alabama, Iowa, Michigan, Montana, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina – between 2019 and 2020, there was either no change or a decrease in parole grant rates.
In the waning days of the Trump administration, discussions often focused on the federal death penalty, as 13 people were executed between July and Biden’s inauguration. The Biden administration has pledged to eliminate the federal death penalty and incentivize states to do the same…
A Crucial Step.
However, what is often not included in this conversation is the hidden death penalty, also known as death-by-incarceration.
With COVID-19 raging throughout the United States, there is a growing sense of desperation among people in prison. Pablo Mendoza, who recently got out of prison, said that those inside “are tired of the lockdown.”
They spend 23.5 hours a day in their cells. They have not had visits from their loved ones for almost a year.
Those who have caught COVID and are believed to be immune get out for yard time. Others are “weighing options,” according to Mendoza: “Stay safe, or get the virus so they can get some open air. They are willing to risk it; this is the mood right now.”
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.
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
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.
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.