On a good day, life in prison is an on-going assault to one’s privacy, self-esteem and personal space. Men and women are crammed into spaces designed for far fewer people, a place where medical facilities are ancient, and prison doctors do the bare minimum to fulfill their Hippocratic Oaths. On a good day.
Many Americans think that incarcerated citizens deserve no more. If they are concerned about their health, if they don’t like the accommodations, then maybe they shouldn’t have committed a crime.
Putting aside for the time being that 70% of those in county jails have not been convicted, putting aside that so many in prison were found guilty of a relatively minor and non-violent offense (including some behavior that has been decriminalized subsequent to their incarceration), putting aside the fact that 26,200 inmates are 65 or older, what does it say about us as a society that we have essentially shoved millions of American men and women citizens into a viral hot tub that is near ready to blow up.
There’s no potential for social distancing in prison. Beds are too close to one another; inmates are herded into lines and trooped into cafeterias en masse. Sinks and showers rarely see a sponge, fights break out where blood is let, guards rough up inmates and return home to their families. On a good day.
Change comes often through extreme circumstances. This is a time for the US to assert itself as a progressive, compassionate nation that understands what works and what doesn’t in the criminal justice system. This is a time to release hundreds of thousands of men and women — not just one or two celebrity favorites — who statistics show pose no threat to society, before the ticking bomb explodes.
At a time when we are all struggling to come to terms with a new world, the last thing we need is to be complicit in the mass transmission of a deadly virus. Whatever those incarcerated did, chances are they didn’t receive a death sentence.
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