By Nancy Martinez
The ACLU is demanding the immediate testing of all prison employees and all incarcerated populations to limit the spread of COVID-19. The demand comes shortly after the ACLU partnered with scholars to create a model of what the effects of COVID-19 could have on incarceration facilities.
A lack of preventive measures in prison environments was estimated to result in 100,000 deaths, possibly doubling the total national estimate. The ACLU maintains that the mass testing could save thousands of lives and also maintains that not undergoing mass testing would “constitute a lack of regard for the lives of tens of thousands of correctional professionals and millions of incarcerated people and their families.”
Calls for the immediate release of incarcerated populations have had meager responses from governors and local officials. More so, there has been a lack of testing that the ACLU predicts has limited the real numbers of infected in incarceration facilities from coming to light.
Some states have granted sentence commutations or allowed early release of individuals in order to limit the incarcerated population. Governor J.B. Pritzker of Illinois has commuted 20 sentences since the outbreak of COVID-19, Governor Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma has approved nearly 500 sentences for commutations, and California has allowed the early release of over 3,500 individuals.
On the other hand, states like Pennsylvania have postponed commutations indefinitely due to COVID-19. As the Appeal reports, the delay of commutations nearly ends all chances of individuals serving life without parole sentences of leaving prison during this pandemic.
These short-coming responses have not been anywhere near the expectancy level organizations like the ACLU or other grassroots groups are demanding.
Despite the real number of cases being unreported, the executive director of the ACLU, Anthony Romero, and the president of the Council of Prison Locals, Shane Fausey, stated that jails and prisons still constitute six of the ten largest hotspots of COVID-19 infections. These alarming statistics are what drives many organizations to demand more safety measures for prison populations.
Supported by the Council of Prison Locals, an organization comprised of over 30,000 employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the ACLU demands mass testing in order to honor and maximize the safety of corrections officers and other staff.
As of 3:00 pm on Thursday, May 7, the BOP has reported a total of 2,646 prison- incarcerated individuals and 244 BOP staff who have had positive COVID-19 tests. Though there have not been any staff member deaths, there have been 44 federally-incarcerated individuals who have passed away from COVID-19.
Considering the current statistics reported by the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine showing the increasing peak of reported COVID-19 cases and the initiation efforts to re-open many states for business, the case numbers within prisons and jails are estimated to continue increasing.
In addition to the ACLU’s efforts to increase the safety of staff and incarcerated individuals, the ACLU has denounced the BOP’s inadequate response as incompetent and urges Congress to support the Emergency Community Supervision Act to be included in the next COVID-19 relief package.
This bill would mandate the national release of incarcerated populations who are pregnant, have underlying health conditions, or are older than 50 years of age. The ACLU encourages sending messages to demand Congress to support this bill at https://action.aclu.org/send-message.
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