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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SUPREME PANDEMIC

The Supreme Court and courts across the country will see an increasing number of pandemic-related disputes in the coming weeks concerning prison conditions and whether prisons are violating the constitutional rights of inmates by failing to adequately protect them against the coronavirus.

Inmates are raising concerns about what they call the deliberate indifference of prison officials during a serious public health crisis and asking for home confinement or appropriate resources to improve hygiene and block the spread of Covid-19.

For their part, state and federal officials are pushing back hard arguing that they are trying to respond to evolving risks while battling an unprecedented global pandemic.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor sent up a flare up this month after inmates argued that their prison conditions amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

“It has long been said that a society’s worth can be judged by taking stock of its prisons,” Sotomayor wrote. “That is all the truer in this pandemic, where inmates everywhere have been rendered vulnerable and often powerless to protect themselves from harm.”

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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MEANINGFUL PAROLE

Maryland’s parole process for people serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole, like Eraina Pretty, is long and arduous.

In 2008, parole commissioners first recommended her for parole after she completed a required risk assessment and psychological evaluation. She waited three years for the governor’s decision; in 2011, then-Governor Martin O’Malley denied her parole. In 2015, the commission once again recommended her for parole; this time, she waited four years before receiving a denial from Governor Larry Hogan

In February, legislators introduced House Bill 1219, which would have precluded the governor from making parole decisions for those serving life sentences.

The bill had been introduced during the past 10 legislative sessions. This year, it passed with a veto-proof majority in the House and, according to Lila Meadows, an attorney at the University of Maryland Law School’s Gender Violence Clinic, would have had enough votes to pass in the Senate. Then COVID-19 prematurely stopped the legislative session.

“If a sentence with parole is meaningful in any way, it has to be that when you have held up your end of the bargain and did all the things the system has asked you to do … you get returned to society. If that doesn’t happen, parole sentences are completely meaningless.”

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70% AND GROWING

New figures provided by the Bureau of Prisons show that out of 2,700 tests systemwide, nearly 2,000 have come back positive, strongly suggesting there are far more COVID-19 cases left uncovered.

At the same time, the Bureau of Prisons communication policies are leaving families in the dark.

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THE PRITZKER CLEMENCY CONUNDRUM

Activists and attorneys have also implored Pritzker to use his powers of clemency, as pardons, commutations, amnesties, and reprieves are the most effective way of getting large numbers of people out of prisons as quickly as possible.

He has used these tools to a certain degree, commuting the sentences of seventeen prisoners since March 11.

In some states in which governors are vested with the same clemency powers as Illinois, governors have used their clemency powers more widely to expedite the release of prisoners from crowded prisons.

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PRISONERS SHOULD BE RECEIVING STIMULUS CHECKS

It makes sense to give money to people who won’t necessarily be released from custody soon.

Prisons and jails have shifted more and more costs onto incarcerated people — costs for things like hygiene supplies, medical copayments, and communication with loved ones.

Since incarcerated people have little ability to earn money, they tend to rely on money transfers from friends and family to pay for basic necessities. But as family members on the outside (who are often low-income to begin with) lose their jobs in the pandemic-induced economic collapse, families will be increasingly less able to send money to loved ones inside.

Providing stimulus funds to incarcerated people helps protect the health and well-being of those behind bars and provides relief to their loved ones at home.

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