COVID-19 has Maryland's prisons under siege -- decarcerate now!

rusty_lock.jpgAs of May 11, 2020, there have been approximately 300 confirmed COVID-19 cases within Maryland’s Correctional System. Nationally, over 70% of tested inmates in federal prisons have COVID-19/Coronavirus.

 At this very moment, thousands of people are sitting in cages -- alone, anxious, and terrified of contracting the coronavirus. 

We can, we should, we must reverse this trend and decarcerate for the safety of the  vulnerable in prison AND the society that surrounds them.



 

By Tara Maxwell/ As of May 11, 2020, there have been approximately 300 confirmed COVID-19 cases within Maryland’s Correctional System. Nationally, over 70% of tested inmates in federal prisons have COVID-19/Coronavirus. The Federal Bureau of Prisons released new figures that show out of 2,700 tests systemwide, nearly 2,000 have come back positive, strongly suggesting there are far more COVID-19 cases left undiscovered.

 At this very moment, thousands of people are sitting in cages -- alone, anxious, and terrified of contracting the coronavirus. 

 Public health and criminal justice experts warned months ago that if elected leaders did not take swift action then the virus would spread like wildfire inside jails, prisons and detention centers. Government officials failed to act and now our worst fears have been confirmed. Many incarcerated people and Corrections officers have been infected in Maryland and the number grows daily. Mid-April, Maryland’s Division of Public Safety and Correctional Services confirmed at least 136 COVID-19 cases before Governor Larry Hogan started to release inmates.  If we do not act, it’s only a matter of time before we witness a devastating loss of life. 

 More than half of those 136 confirmed COVID-19 cases (in mid-April) are correctional officers. I am a retired law enforcement officer after 30 years of service including 15 years of Jail and Corrections experience. It was never easy. In our job, we used to say we were doing time with the inmates – the only difference was we went home. Today it is even more deadly.

 As an active and engaged ally and member of Progressive Maryland, I am a Criminal Justice Reform and Returning Citizens/Reentry work group member. We have been working on key legislative requests as a response to the COVID-19 health emergency pandemic and its effects on the incarcerated, returning citizens and their families.

 We want to create greater public awareness about what happens inside the nation’s jails and prisons and the impact that has on society. cuffed_individual.jpg

 Simply put, jails and prisons lack the critical infrastructure needed to withstand a viral outbreak. Incarcerated people have limited access to basic necessities like hot water and hand soap. Bleach and hand sanitizer are considered contraband. People with underlying health conditions do not receive proper medical care in jails and prisons, let alone the resources needed to combat a disease that scientists are just beginning to understand. This two-minute video from the rapper Common’s organization, Imagine Justice, lets those inside tell the truth to the rest of us. Many of their loved ones are gripped with fear because of these conditions – and the lack of information about them available to the public.

 Elected officials and Governor Hogan are not responding quickly enough in making sure this vulnerable population is safe. And Maryland officials’ blatant disregard for the lives of incarcerated people puts all of us in harm’s way. Why? Because jails and prisons are not closed environments. Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly correctional staff, cycle in and out of these places every day, guaranteeing the spread of COVID-19 beyond the facility to the larger public. Public officials must act NOW to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

 We ask you to join Progressive Maryland and other community organizations in demanding all public officials to develop a coordinated response in order to reduce the risk of contagion in our communities by doing the following:

1.   Release as many people as possible from jails, prisons, and detention centers

2.   Stem the influx of people in and out of these facilities

3.   Ensure the protection and safety of those who remain incarcerated during the pandemic

COVID-19 should not be a death sentence for the thousands of Marylanders in county jails and state prisons. Demand government officials immediately prioritize the humanity of incarcerated people in the face of a global pandemic.  by signing this petition.

reentry_work_group_flyer_may_27.jpgTime is of the essence. The best way to contain the virus is to release as many people as possible from detention, limit the number of arrests in order to stem the flow of people in and out the jails and provide critical medical care for those who remain incarcerated during the pandemic.

 The coronavirus is revealing what many of us have known all along -- mass incarceration is a public health crisis. For years, incarcerated people have been forced to live in unsanitary and unsafe conditions. Many have gone without access to proper medical care. Even before this crisis, countless men, women, and children have died. 

 The COVID-19 pandemic lays bare a powerful truth: jails and prisons are violent institutions. No human being should be inside of a cageAnd none of us are safe as long as these places are allowed to exist. We must ask the question. Why are so many of our loved ones and community members locked up in the first place? What are our elected leaders doing to change it?   

We are better than this. Let’s let work to prove it.


Join us as we expand this movement. May 28, engage with us in a virtual forum on re-entry. And watch for details on our late June town hall on re-entry housing and voting rights for the November general election.