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Immediate steps are required to avert mass casualties in prisons and jails

Prison health is public health!
By staff |
March 15, 2020
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Fight Back News Service is circulating the following March 14 statement from the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression.

The Illinois Department of Corrections has declared that all civilian visits to Illinois prison will be suspended indefinitely starting Saturday, March 14, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for which a national emergency has been declared. New prison inmates arriving from any of the four “Reception and Classification Centers” are reportedly being held in quarantine.

These are minimal steps not based on science. Depriving prisoners of contact with their families only aggravates an already terrible and stressful condition.

A fundamental prerequisite for a science-based policy regarding COVID-19 in prisons and jails demands a crash program to manufacture and give priority distribution of tests and protective gear to those places where they are needed the most – places where people are confined in close quarters such as prisons and jails.

The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression demands that the following scientific and humane steps be taken to contain the spread of the virus and avoid mass death among the incarcerated population:

--Designate specific portions of federal emergency funding for addressing the coronavirus within prisons and jails.

--Test prison and jail inmates daily for infection and provide hospitalization and treatment for those in need.

--Provide hand sanitizer throughout all common areas of prisons and jails and hand washing facilities.

--Require that all prison staff, vendors and contractors are queried, screened and tested when indicated for possible exposure and/or infection at every entry into a facility.

--Report cases of coronavirus within prison and jails to the public and families.

--Allow family and friends visits on the same basis. Provide hand sanitizer throughout visiting rooms and regularly disinfect them. Provide for prisoner and visitor handwashing before and after all visits.

--Provide for free phone calls to family and friends during this public health crisis and increase the availability of remote video visits.

--Immediately release to their homes or the homes of family and friends all prison inmates who are elderly (over 60) or have medical conditions that compromise their immune system, including Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, cancer, chronic HIV or HCV infection, leukemia, or multiple myeloma.

--In addition, the Chicago Alliance endorses and signs on to the letter to Governor J. B. Pritzker on this issue organized by the Illinois Coalition for Higher Education in Prison (IL-CHEP) and urges all who share our concern for the lives of prisoners to also sign this letter.

--Provide a minimum of a 30 day supply of all prescription medications (with written prescriptions) and foodstuffs to those released, and referral to local public health clinics in their areas.

--Release on OR bonds all County Jail prisoners being held pending trial, except for those requiring hospitalization for severe mental or physical disorders, or those charged with first degree murder or sexual assault.

--Adopt at the state and county level the National Commission of Correctional Health Care

More fundamentally, prison and jail health care system staff and resources need to be drastically ramped up to deal with this public health crisis. The private contracting of prison health care must be ended; sickness and injury to those behind prison walls cannot be a source of private profit.

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