THE JAIL CYCLE: Spreading COVID-19

New research has found that nearly one in six cases of COVID-19 in Chicago and Illinois can be connected to people moving through the Cook County Jail, which at one point was dubbed the largest-known source of coronavirus cases in the U.S.

According to a new study published Thursday in the journal Health Affairs, cycling through Cook County Jail is associated with 15.7% of all documented cases of the virus in Illinois and 15.9% in Chicago through mid-April.

“As the pandemic began, I realized this was going to be a huge driver,” Eric Reinhart, a University of Chicago researcher who co-authored the report, told WTTW.

“The jail cycle – arresting people, cycling through the jail and back into their communities – was going to be a huge driver of COVID-19 spreading to communities.”

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AN END TO LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE?

After spending more than half his life behind bars, George Mullins can tick off what he sees as sorely needed programs: economic literacy, conflict resolution, learning how to recognize trauma and triggers, connecting with family, positive reinforcement.

It’s too easy to languish otherwise, watching each year roll by like heavy fog.

A quote from Bryan Stevenson, president of the Equal Justice Initiative, struck a chord: “You are more than the worst thing you’ve ever done.”

We cannot create a system that serves people adequately—people suffering from trauma, people who are victims of violence themselves—we can’t serve them if we’re not listening to them. Not just listening to them, but centering them.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY BREONNA TAYLOR

People are wishing Breonna Taylor a happy birthday on the day she would have turned 27.  Taylor was shot and killed by police officers who entered her home in March. Black Lives

In April, Taylor’s mother filed a wrongful death suit that alleging the police had no reason to enter Taylor’s home as the suspect they were looking for had already been placed in custody.

The police officers had used a no-knock warrant that allowed them to enter Taylor’s home without identifying themselves. Taylor’s partner, Kenneth Walker, thought the police were intruders and opened fire, hitting one officer.

The Louisville police then shot around 25 bullets, hitting Taylor eight times.

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ILHAN OMAR ON POLICE BRUTALITY

This is truly a systematic problem.

Black people in this country, from the days of being Enslaved to the days of being Lynched, to Jim Crow, to the Police Brutality we are seeing now, to Mass Incarceration…

Black people have always seen their humanity not being recognized. When we say we are sick and tired, we mean we are sick and tired.

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PROTESTERS MOURN GEORGE FLOYD NATIONWIDE

Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets around the US today to demand justice for George Floyd and other black Americans who have recently died following police violence.

Reverend Al Sharpton denounced racism and called for accountability in the criminal justice system as he delivered a eulogy at Floyd’s memorial service…

“The reason we could never be who we wanted to be – and dreamed of being – is you kept your knee on our neck.”

Sharpton spoke near a casket carrying Floyd’s body.

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COVID-19 & THE CRISIS OF INCARCERATION

Good afternoon, my name is Joseph Dole. I am one of the cofounders of Parole Illinois and am currently the Policy Director.

Every year people die in IDOC custody, the vast majority due in part to over-sentencing. COVID-19 is highlighting this fact because it is attacking the elderly and infirm, many of whom have spent decades enduring harsh prison conditions, much of that time unnecessarily. They die lonely deaths for no other reason than incarceration politics, and in a vain attempt to satiate the insatiable appetite some people have for revenge.

For the past few decades, the State has grudgingly acknowledged that hundreds of innocent people are being wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. It is now time to acknowledge that there are also thousands of guilty people who are wrongfully imprisoned as well, due to the fact that their prison sentences are longer than necessary for public safety.

The experts agree, mass incarceration’s main driver is excessive sentences for serious and violent crimes. Thus, we cannot address mass incarceration without reducing such sentences.

The Governor and others have recently voiced support for early releases of “non-violent offenders,” and insinuate that this shows they still consider public safety as the main priority. Not only is this insufficient to address mass incarceration, but if public safety is the main priority, then they should have no problem releasing “violent offenders.” That’s because people convicted of violent offenses are actually safer to release than those in prison for non-violent offenses. In other words, they have lower recidivism rates and even a lower likelihood of committing violence if released.

The thousands of people currently serving excessively long sentences are doing so due to racism, fear-mongering, dehumanization, political exploitation, and the false promise that harsher sentences are needed to deter crime.

Politicians of both parties have used tough-on-crime rhetoric to get elected for decades, telling the public over and over again that even longer and harsher sentences are the only way to deter people from committing crimes. In Illinois, this facilitated the abolishment of parole, the passage of accountability and felony murder laws, Truth-In-Sentencing, the Habitual Criminal Act, gun add-ons, life -without-parole and de facto life sentences, and increased sentencing ranges for nearly every crime imaginable.

It seems logical, threaten someone with a severe enough consequence and you would think they would refrain from committing a crime. Unfortunately, this type of punitive deterrence is a myth, as has been shown by nearly every reputable study of deterrence conducted.

For punitive deterrence to work there are several prerequisites necessary. The person has to know the consequence, believe he or she will be caught and face that consequence, and have the ability to rationally weigh the costs and benefits of committing a crime versus not committing it.

Punitive deterrence doesn’t work, because, not only do people not know what sentencing laws stipulate, but people don’t believe they will be caught, let alone charged and convicted. Moreover, people who commit crimes are almost never rational actors. Not only are 40% of people who commit crimes juveniles or young adults with immature prefrontal lobes, but most are either under the influence of drugs or alcohol, are mentally ill, or act in the heat of the moment while in anger without thinking clearly.

Craig Findley, the chairman of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, who has interviewed over 25,000 incarcerated Illinoisans, told a subject matter only hearing on parole, that he likewise concludes that “long sentences are not a deterrent to crime.” Nonetheless, every day men and women are receiving excessively long and inhumane prison sentences under the guise that they will deter people from committing crimes.

What is never mentioned when arguing for more severe sentences to deter crime is the inhumanity of the practice, itself. You are inflicting more punishment than someone deserves or that is penologicaly justifiable. Each person who has their prison sentence increased (and their life, as well as the lives of his or her family, increasingly destroyed) to allegedly deter others, is irrationally being held accountable for whether others will or won’t commit a crime. For the State to increase the pain and suffering of one individual to coerce the behavior of another is morally repugnant.

We currently have thousands of people sentenced to die in prison in a vain attempt to coerce others to follow the law. Let me show you how incarceration politics has affected three of my friends’ lives. All three were sentenced to death by incarceration.

My fellow NEIU graduate, Darrell Fair, was coerced at gunpoint into a false confession by one of Jon Burge’s underlings. He was then wrongfully convicted and sentenced to spend 100% of a 50-year sentence in prison thanks to the Truth-In-Sentencing law. His liberty was violently stolen by a corrupt legal system, and his release has been continuously denied due to incarceration politics. First, via over-sentencing where he cannot be paroled; then when the Torture Inquiry Relief Commission refused to examine non-Burge claims; then when the TIRC opened up to include non-Burge claims but was insufficiently funded; then when the prosecutor, for months, neglected to divulge the fact the Detective McDermott refused to testify under oath that he did not assault and threaten Darrell; and now for several more months as the court is shut down due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Darrell is a 52-year-old asthmatic with a college degree and enormous community support. His innocence should have set him free decades ago. Even if he were guilty, he should not be in prison today as he has served sufficient time by historical standards and poses no threat to society.

Will society collectively shrug if he too contracts COVID-19 and dies, like society shrugged off the thousands of other deaths over the past few decades in the IDOC due to over-sentencing and incarceration politics? Would society care more if people learn that his wrongful conviction will cost taxpayers millions of dollars, and his wrongful death would add to that tab?

How many additional men and women could have already been safely at home with their families if politicians had not played incarceration politics with the young adult parole bill over the last few years? Political calculations alone kept it from being retroactive, inclusive, and extending to those who were under 25 when the crime occurred. I know at least two of my friends who might still be alive today if it had been retroactive, etc. — James Scott and Joseph Wilson.

James was 18 when he committed the crime he was incarcerated for. He was a kind old man who had spent decades in prison, and simply wanted to get out to reunite with his family. Joseph was a writer, artist, and entrepreneur who had also served decades in prison and simply wanted to regain his freedom so that he could give back to his community. Both are now dead. While COVID-19 may have prevented them from taking another breath, it was incarceration politics that put the bag over their heads. They will be missed dearly.

There are probably a thousand other people convicted as juveniles or young adults that deserve a chance to go home by the same logic that passed HB531 last year. Instead, they are all sitting in prison unable to protect themselves from COVID-19, let alone return home to help their families in these dire times.

If Illinois had not abolished parole, etc., all three of my friends would likely have returned home to their families a decade or more ago. They would undoubtedly become upstanding and contributing members of their communities. I can say that because I know their character, not just the false label society placed on them. Instead of being home however, the State spent millions of dollars to continue to incarcerate them — two of them unto death.

These are just a few examples of the thousands of people who deserve a chance to return home, but who are being forced to grow old and die in prison unnecessarily.

While COVID-19 has made it undeniable that there are thousands of people incarcerated in Illinois who pose no threat to society and don’t deserve a death sentence, many of the same political calculations of old prevent acknowledging thousands of others. It is high time to stop playing politics with people’s lives.

We are tired of watching our friends die in here for no other reason than to benefit the political careers of yesterday’s politicians.

Many have noted that the COVID-19 situation in prisons is a moral test that our society is failing abysmally. However, it is simply shining a spotlight on an even more abysmal moral failure — that of mass incarceration and incarceration politics in general.

I often wonder, if mass incarceration is the civil rights issue of our era, then how will our grandchildren view not only the architects and champions of mass incarceration, but also those in power today who fail to rectify it, and simply either choose to do nothing or choose to delay doing something while people continue to die, and as the politicians continue making political calculations?

I thank you all for your time today, and especially thank those senators and representatives who are present today and understand the dire immediacy of the situation.

YOU’RE INVITED & NEEDED: Hope To See You There

Join us for a public hearing on the current conditions that incarcerated people are facing under the COVID-19 pandemic and how communities inside and out are building up the practices and institutions that support healthy and self-determined communities during COVID-19.

And beyond.

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JUSTICE FOR GEORGE FLOYD

Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office on Wednesday upgraded charges against the former Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck and charged the other three officers at the scene with aiding and abetting murder.

The decision came just two days after Ellison took over the prosecution from Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and followed more than a week of sometimes-violent protests calling for tougher charges against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who had pinned Floyd to the ground and held him there for nearly nine minutes.

Protesters also demanded the arrests of the three other former officers who were present but failed to intervene. All three were booked into the Hennepin County jail on Wednesday.

“To the Floyd family, to our beloved community, and everyone that is watching, I say: George Floyd mattered. He was loved. His life was important. His life had value. We will seek justice for him and for you and we will find it.”

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ALL WE ARE SAYING IS GIVE PROTEST A CHANCE

The movement to defund the police is gaining significant support across America, including from elected leaders, as protests over the killing of George Floyd sweep the nation.

For years, activists have pushed US cities and states to cut law enforcement budgets amid a dramatic rise in spending on police and prisons while funding for vital social services has shrunk or disappeared altogether.

Government officials have long dismissed the idea as a leftist fantasy, but the recent unrest and massive budget shortfalls from the Covid-19 crisis appear to have inspired more mainstream recognition of the central arguments behind defunding.

“To see legislators who aren’t even necessarily on the left supporting at least a significant decrease in New York police department funding is really very encouraging,” Julia Salazar. “It feels a little bit surreal.”

Floyd’s death on camera in Minneapolis, advocates say, was a powerful demonstration that police reform efforts of the last half-decade have failed to stop racist policing and killings. Meanwhile, the striking visuals of enormous, militarized and at times violent police forces responding to peaceful protests have led some politicians to question whether police really need this much money and firepower.

Activists say the way to stop police brutality and killings is to cut law enforcement budgets and reinvest in services.

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GEORGE FLOYD LOCKDOWN: Federal Bureau Of Prisons Locks Down Prisoners

After protests broke out in response to George Floyd’s death, the agency ordered the first nationwide lockdown in 25 years.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons ordered prisoners confined to cells and stripped of outside communications.

“You’re kind of confirming why we’re in the situation we’re in as a country, where the rage has erupted because people are sick of the oppression, particularly against minorities. Cops were comfortable with the actions they were taking against George Floyd with someone filming so closely.”

“Just imagine what goes on inside prisons.”

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