Prisons, Jails And The Pandemic: How Coronavirus Is Affecting The Incarcerated

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An inmate cleans a jail cell at Las Colinas Women's Detention Facility in Santee, California, on April 22, 2020. (SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP via Getty Images)
An inmate cleans a jail cell at Las Colinas Women's Detention Facility in Santee, California, on April 22, 2020. (SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP via Getty Images)

The coronavirus is infecting thousands of incarcerated people in prisons and jails across the U.S. We discuss how mass incarceration is leading to mass suffering in this pandemic.


Michelle Alexander, civil rights lawyer, advocate, legal scholar and writer. Author of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness." (@thenewjimcrow)

Joyce White Vance, distinguished professor of the practice of law at the University of Alabama. Former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. (@JoyceWhiteVance)

Dr. Homer Venters, physician, epidemiologist and the former Chief Medical Officer of New York City Correctional Health Services. Author of "Life and Death in Rikers Island." (@homerventers)

From The Reading List

Excerpt from "Life and Death in Rikers Island" by Dr. Homer Venters

Excerpted from "Life and Death in Rikers Island" by Dr. Homer Venters © 2019. Published by Johns Hopkins University Press. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press. All rights reserved.

The Marshall Project: "A State-by-State Look at Coronavirus in Prisons" — "Since March, The Marshall Project has been tracking how many people are being sickened and killed by COVID-19 in prisons and how widely it has spread across the country and within each state. Here, we will regularly update these figures counting the number of people infected and killed nationwide and in each prison system until the crisis abates."

WBUR: "Mass. Prisons And Jails Among Hardest Hit By Coronavirus In U.S." — "Five Massachusetts correctional institutions appear to be among the hardest hit by coronavirus infections among inmates and staff thus far at the roughly 4,900 jails and prisons in the United States."

Time: "The Coronavirus Is Hitting Our Nation's Prisons and Jails Hard. And It's Exposing a Crisis That Existed Long Before the Outbreak" — "The news from the nation’s prisons and jails is increasingly grim. On Sunday, there were reports that 1,828 people incarcerated at Marion County Correctional Facility in Ohio, 73% of its total population, have tested positive for COVID-19. One staff member has died and another 109 have tested positive. Similar reports are coming in from federal and state facilities across the country. But this crisis in our criminal justice system isn’t due to the coronavirus. Rather, the pandemic is exposing a pre-existing crisis in our prisons that we are long overdue to fix."

WBUR: "When Inmates Die Of Poor Medical Care, Jails Often Keep It Secret" — "Confined at the Worcester County jail in 2016, Michael Ramey was in agony. At various times, he couldn’t walk, see or hear."

New York Times: "The Injustice of This Moment Is Not an ‘Aberration’" — "Ten years have passed since my book, “The New Jim Crow,” was published. I wrote it to challenge our nation to reckon with the recurring cycles of racial reform, retrenchment and rebirth of caste-like systems that have defined our racial history since slavery. It has been an astonishing decade. Everything and nothing has changed."

USA Today: "Mass virus testing in state prisons reveals hidden asymptomatic infections; feds join effort" — "There have been much worse outbreaks during this pandemic. But 39 inmates testing positive for the coronavirus at Neuse state prison in Goldsboro, North Carolina, was still cause for alarm."

The Marshall Project: "Prisons Are Coronavirus Hotspots. This Town’s Got Five of Them." — "For more than 50 years, Palestine, Texas, has been known as a prison town. Most of the time, that hasn’t been a problem."

Buzzfeed News: "More Than 70% Of Inmates At One Prison Had COVID-19, And Advocates Fear The Coronavirus Is Silently Spreading" — "After the first cases of COVID-19 surfaced at Ohio Marion Correctional Institution, officials decided to do what no prison in the country had yet done: test every inmate inside."

This program aired on May 7, 2020.


Wes Martin Freelance Producer
Wes Martin is a freelance producer for On Point.


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Meghna Chakrabarti Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.



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