As badly as the novel coronavirus has ravaged the United States, the situation inside American prisons is many times more dire.
The rates of death and infection have been five times worse in our state and federal prison systems than among the greater population outside, according to a new study published earlier this week. I would hope that this might prompt us to push for what advocates for the incarcerated and detained have been fighting for since the start of the covid-19 pandemic: the release of individuals trapped in these hotbeds for contagion.
Many states have wisely turned to decarceration in order to reduce the number of covid-related deaths in prisons—which, per a report released by the American Civil Liberties Union in June, has killed more than 570 incarcerated people and over 50 correctional officers. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear commuted the sentences of nearly 1,000 people in prison in April, about a week after California Gov. Gavin Newsom granted early release to 3,500 individuals at risk for infection. California has now decided to decarcerate even more people in its prisons, per The Guardian, with officials announcing the release of up to 8,000 individuals on Friday.
Friday also happened to be the day that Donald Trump commuted the federal prison sentence of longtime friend and collaborator Roger Stone, The New York Times reports. Stone is only the eleventh person to receive a commutation from the President, whose predecessor Barack Obama, commuted 1,715 sentences over the course of his eight years in office. Most of Trump’s commutations have gone to “cases that resonate with him personally [or to people who] have a direct line to him through friends or family,” the Times notes, highlighting one of the many ways in which wealth and power, or at least a proximity to it, can save one from experiencing the horrors of the U.S. prison system, which for now include an increased risk of covid infection.
There are lives at stake inside prisons, just as ours are at stake on the outside, and the only hope we have of saving them—short of full-scale abolition—is to get incarcerated people out of there.