ORPrisons and prisons must move quickly to free elderly and medically vulnerable remand prisoners or face a major humanitarian crisis as the coronavirus ravages custody institutions across the country, Democratic Congresswoman Rashida warns today. Tlaib.
In an interview with The Guardian, the US representative for Michigan’s 13th congressional district covering some of Detroit’s poorest neighborhoods said that the Covid-19 pandemic was forcing consideration of America’s addiction to mass incarceration.
“We need to prevent Covid-19 from being a death sentence for so many. It is hurting the most vulnerable who are currently detained in inhumane conditions as the pandemic strikes, ”said Tlaib.
Tlaib has introduced new House legislation that would use federal funds as leverage to push states to reduce their incarcerated populations during the coronavirus crisis. Inmates eligible under the law for immediate release for up to one year after the pandemic ends would include:
The bill, known as the Mass Incarceration Rollback Act for Public Health, is one of the boldest efforts to tackle mass incarceration amid the pandemic.
“This bill is just the beginning of a goal to end mass incarceration for all, something that our local and national advocacy groups have been fighting for decades,” said Tlaib.
As the coronavirus pandemic has swept the country, correctional facilities, along with nursing homes and meat packing plants, have become major centers of disease. According to the New York Times, the top five virus groups in the US are now found in prisons and jails.
They include the Marion Correctional Institution in Ohio, which has only registered nearly 2,500 cases, and Pickaway, also in Ohio, with 1,800 confirmed cases.
Models of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) warned that American prisons alone could act as such powerful incubators of the disease that they could add another 100,000 deaths to the current figure of 121,000. So far, that catastrophe has not been realized, and the latest estimates suggest that 627 inmates and staff have died and 70,000 confirmed cases of infection.
But those numbers are likely to be gross subcontracts given the extremely low rate of diagnostic testing in custodial institutions. The virus has also been shown to be able to traverse custodial environments at terrifying speed.
The San Quentin State Prison in California has seen the number of confirmed cases among inmates skyrocket from 16 to 470 in the past two weeks. About 100 prison staff members also tested positive.
Tlaib is one of the so-called “Squad,” the four progressive female Democrats who entered Congress in 2019. Squad member Ayanna Pressley is a co-author of the Bill to Dismantle Mass Incarceration along with Barbara Lee and the remaining two Squads. members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar are sponsors.
Tlaib said she was anxious about the vulnerability to the prisons and jails coronavirus when she began hearing from Detroit County jails that they could not quarantine inmates, even if they needed to, given the overcrowding. They also reported a severe shortage of nurses and healthcare providers, as well as protective equipment.
She told The Guardian that she was increasingly concerned about exposure of people awaiting trial whose lives could be in danger from the virus. “Right now, close to a million people are incarcerated and legally innocent, awaiting trial because they cannot post bail when the courts are closed due to the pandemic. It’s crazy, “she said.
The congresswoman has attended several protests during the recent wave of protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. She said that the protesters were clear that the fight against police brutality should be established in a broader context that included mass incarceration.
“We have an epidemic of incarceration that has devastated black communities for decades. So yes, protests across the country are happening due to police brutality, but there is also a need for major structural change, ”added Tlaib.
He noted that in his home state of Michigan, the costs of incarceration distorted public spending. “We have high rates of poverty, a housing crisis, water is not yet clean in Flint, and the number one budget line in the state of Michigan is corrections. No education, no public health, no corrections, “he said.
Tlaib recalled what one of his constituents told him recently: “Being poor and black in the United States always leads in some way to being beaten by the police or the prison industry.”