Prison Decarceration in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic  

Protesters in Philadelphia demand decarceration during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Joe Piette, shared under Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

by Yosef Robele

Editor’s note: With this thoroughly researched academic article, Prison Health News has the rare privilege of offering scientific data—in addition to our continuing testimonies from people in prison—about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted incarcerated people. We agree with the author, Yosef Robele, that decarceration is the winning strategy we all must fight for.  

Yosef is a 2nd year masters student in the Environmental Health Science & Policy Track at George Washington University School of Public Health. He was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. He went to undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in Environmental Science and minored in Physics. He hopes to have a career tackling environmental justice issues from a scientifically informed background.

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic has done much to reveal structural inequalities in American society. Throughout the pandemic, the Prison Industrial Complex has been shown to be wholly inadequate in protecting incarcerated persons, prison staff and the surrounding communities. As both the incarcerated persons and the staffs have higher rates of chronic disease than the general population (Wildeman & Wang, 2017), this places them at higher risk of an adverse outcome from contracting COVID-19. While the prison population has actually decreased by about 10% for various reasons during the pandemic, (Franco-Paredes et al., 2021) prison reform advocates have called for more radical slashes. This paper will advocate not only for these radical slashes but also for other forms of support for formerly incarcerated people. Over summer 2020 alone, over 500,000 cases of COVID-19 can be attributed to the carceral state (Hooks & Sawyer, 2020). In order to prevent further cases and deaths, it’s imperative that incarcerated people are not only released but released with enough health care and housing to support themselves during the pandemic.

Continue reading Prison Decarceration in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic  

Prison Health News Advisory Board Member Under Threat for Health Activism in Oregon Prison

April 28, 2022

One of our beloved Advisory Board members for Prison Health News, Aaron Maxwell Hanna, filed a lawsuit last year against the Oregon Department of Corrections for not enforcing its own rule that prison employees must wear a face mask to protect those inside the prisons from COVID-19. It’s widely known that prison guards are the most common way COVID gets into prisons from the community. After filing the lawsuit, Max got COVID earlier this year. At his facility, Two Rivers Correctional Institution, 1,287 others have contracted COVID; across the state, 45 people in prison have died of it.

Due to his tireless advocacy, Max won a preliminary injunction on March 21 in federal court that requires the prison authorities to enforce their own mandate for staff to wear face masks. After Max won the injunction, guards allegedly pressured a gang member to take Max’s life, but Max was able to use the support he has from other prisoners to reach this gang member, who is now testifying for Max. We are awaiting the next court hearing, which will be May 10 and cover the alleged retaliation by prison guards against Max and others.

Max requested that we share this note from him on our website, along with a copy of the preliminary injunction:

I am fighting the good fight and standing up against an entire prison staffed with right-wing Republicans who don’t care about me or anyone serving a sentence behind these walls. You have no idea how big, how red and bright this target is on my back, but I don’t care because I am doing the right thing for everyone! This is what matters to me, and how I want to be remembered.

With what I am writing to you, I hope to encourage all of you who are prison activists, who want to protect the lives of those that can’t or won’t stand up for themselves. Please keep all of us in your thoughts and prayers. If you want to email me with words of encouragement, please do so at: MaxwellH7019@gmail.com and I’ll get those from you. I’ll even respond to you if you let me know that you want me to do so.

Stay strong, brothers and sisters!
Max

You can read the preliminary injunction here: https://prisonhealthnews.files.wordpress.com/2022/04/max-hanna-mask-injunction-2022.pdf

LGBTQ Prison Testimonies: Dakota Rose in California

July 2020
Dakota Rose Austin
Kern Valley State Prison, California

Ms. Dakota Rose, a trans woman incarcerated in California, asks for help to stop the violence against LGBTQ people housed in the Sensitive Needs Yard, a place intended to keep them safe from homophobic and transphobic attacks. Various populations at risk of harm are placed there, not just LGBTQ people. For more information, see this resource written by currently and formerly incarcerated trans activists.

“My Cup of Tea”

To all of my incarcerated trans-sisters/brothers and non-binary identifying individuals, what’s Gucci! I am Dakota Rose, an incarcerated trans-woman, African Am. who was privileged to read my sis-in-solidarity, Fatima M. Shabazz’ submitted article regarding “transgender housing in prison.” Instinctively, I felt a sense of pride, compelled to interject my perspective and push for out (LGBTQ) advocacy, activism and overdue civil recourse.

Currently I am housed at Kern Valley State Prison, a max security level IV (180 design) SNY/NDO (sensitive needs yard/non-designated) in which a vast majority of the population are identified by CDCR [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] administration as STGs (security threat group/gang members). CDCR administrators, such as Sec. Scott Kernan in conjunction with C. Pfeiffer, K.V.S.P. warden, have knowingly condoned a perilous homophobic and transphobic culture, which has subsequently led to various hate crime acts of violence, discrimination, sexual harassment and assaults upon the LGBTQ population.

Continue reading “LGBTQ Prison Testimonies: Dakota Rose in California”

Survivors of SCI Fayette’s Toxic Water and Coal Ash Speak Out

Prison Health News is honored to share these testimonies from inside State Correctional Institution (SCI) Fayette, one of Pennsylvania’s 24 prisons. While many prisons force people to live in environmentally toxic and unsafe conditions, the case of SCI Fayette is shockingly severe. We hope these testimonies encourage everyone reading this to get involved in the fight to shut down SCI Fayette. For more info, please check out Abolitionist Law Center’s report, No Escape: Exposure to Toxic Coal Waste at SCI Fayette. To get involved in the fight to finally shut this prison down, reach out to the Human Rights Coalition at salenacoca (at) gmail (dot) com or write to Human Rights Coalition, Attention: Toxic Prisons Committee, PO Box 34580, Philadelphia, PA 19101. Continue reading “Survivors of SCI Fayette’s Toxic Water and Coal Ash Speak Out”

Louisiana Activists Launch National Coalition to Demand Controlled Evacuations of Prisons During the Pandemic

By Suzy Subways

A national coalition led by the Working Group Against COVID-19 Death Chambers is forming to fight for controlled evacuations of incarcerated people—and it needs you. 

For the past year, loved ones of incarcerated people and other activists have pressured states to release large numbers of people from prisons in order to prevent massive loss of life. But very few people have been released, and as a result of prison conditions, one in five incarcerated people have gotten COVID-19. According to the UCLA COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project, at least 2,368 incarcerated people have died in the U.S. from the virus so far. 

Continue reading “Louisiana Activists Launch National Coalition to Demand Controlled Evacuations of Prisons During the Pandemic”

Aging Black Liberation Political Prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz, Bedridden with COVID-19 and Cancer, Shows Us Why PA Must #FreeEmAll

by Suzy Subways

As COVID-19 surges through the state and tears through its prisons, loved ones of incarcerated people are driving to Harrisburg today, calling for Gov. Tom Wolf to use his reprieve power to immediately release all elderly and medically vulnerable people in prison. Loved ones are also asking the Department of Corrections to require prison staff to wear face masks and be tested for COVID-19. As part of a national caravan for health and social justice, the Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign worked with local anti-prison groups like the Human Rights Coalition and the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration (CADBI) to center the survival of people in prison on this day. The car caravan will circle the state capitol and proceed to the governor’s mansion.

Amid the horror that is the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections right now, Black liberation movement political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz may be one of the best examples of how that horror is playing out for elderly prisoners and their families. Maroon is 77 years old and has been fighting stage 4 colon cancer for over a year. After testing positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 11, Maroon was held in a gymnasium with 29 other men—and only one toilet to share between them. Meanwhile, he has had blood in his stool, and his urgent surgery for the cancer is now being denied. 

Continue reading “Aging Black Liberation Political Prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz, Bedridden with COVID-19 and Cancer, Shows Us Why PA Must #FreeEmAll”

We Keep Us Safe: Mutual Aid Across the Walls

By Olivia Pandolfi

From PHN Issue 42, Spring 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, people around the world are mobilizing to demand the release of incarcerated people. The prison system poses a legitimate public health threat because it is difficult to practice social distancing while incarcerated. As a result, the virus spreads quickly, usually after being introduced by a guard or other workers.

People with loved ones in prison and who want to abolish prisons have mounted phone zapping, letter-writing, tweet storming, and other campaigns to pressure officials to decrease the population of prisons and jails. These demands to release people often center aging, immune-compromised, and other vulnerable populations, but can extend to everyone. In many cities, car caravans or “drive-ins” have been organized to disrupt traffic and show support for decarceration measures while keeping participants safely distanced from one another in their cars. In these protests, people deck out their cars with signs and slogans such as FreeThemAll4PublicHealth and #FreeOurPeople, naming local officials to demand action.

Continue reading

When There’s a Pandemic and Your Loved One Is in Prison

Ideas for support and advocacy during the COVID-19 crisis 

By Evelyne Kane and Suzy Subways

It’s challenging enough for loved ones of people in prison: paying for expensive phone calls, trying to advocate for your loved one’s health, keeping your head up through it all. And now we have to deal with this new virus. Here are what we hope will be some helpful ideas and suggestions, which we’ve gathered from people in prison, their loved ones on the outside, and other activists:

Coronavirus Info to Share with Your Loved One in Prison:

COVID-19 is the name for the new disease spread by the coronavirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), COVID-19 is very easy to spread from person to person, and transmission can happen in a number of ways, including:

  • From close contact with another person who has the virus (being within 6 feet of them)
  • Through contaminated surfaces or objects (the virus can live on many surfaces for hours or even days)
  • Through contaminated particles in the air (for instance, when someone with the virus coughs or sneezes)

Continue reading “When There’s a Pandemic and Your Loved One Is in Prison”

Transgender Housing in Prison

By Fatima Malika Shabazz

From PHN Issue 41, Winter 2020

Hello everyone: Since it’s been so long since I’ve written an article for Prison Health News, it makes sense that I introduce myself. My name is Fatima Malika Shabazz. I am a formerly incarcerated Afican American Transwoman. The last time I wrote anything for Prison Health News, it was due to a civil action I filed against the California Department of Corrections. Since that time, I have been released on parole; I have also been heavily involved in advocacy and activism surrounding either reforming or eliminating bad department of corrections policies related to the trans population.

Continue reading

“My Heart Is Broken in Pieces”: Family Grieves Son Lost to Excessive Force from Corrections Officers

By Evelyne Kane

Online exclusive for Prison Health News

A few days before Christmas, Shaleda and Ervin Busbee sit together in their cozy and well-kept rowhouse in West Philadelphia. From the living room, a lighted Christmas tree ringed with gifts glows softly. Despite the festivity of the season, the Busbees’ spirits are heavy this year as they grieve the loss of their son, Tyrone Briggs, who was killed on November 11, 2019 while incarcerated at Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution-Mahanoy. His family and legal team allege that his death was caused by excessive use of pepper spray by Mahanoy staff.

Continue reading ““My Heart Is Broken in Pieces”: Family Grieves Son Lost to Excessive Force from Corrections Officers”