Story at a glance
- Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, jails and prisons have been hotspots for COVID-19.
- Even after many states began releasing nonviolent offenders and high-risk inmates on parole, prisoners are complaining about overcrowding and unsafe conditions.
- Meanwhile, many prison guards are refusing vaccinations, putting inmates at further risk.
As demonstrators take to the streets to demand an end to police brutality, protests continue at jails and prisons across the country against another crisis in the country’s criminal justice system: overincarceration.
"The United States needs to take this as an opportunity to empty out its criminally overcrowded jails, or continue to perpetuate yet another unforgivable mass atrocity that disproportionately affects immigrants, poor people and Black Americans," wrote activist Akin Olla in an editorial for The Guardian.
Jails and prisons have been hotspots of coronavirus infection since the beginning of the pandemic, in large part due to overcrowding. In response, some states released nonviolent, elderly offenders at the beginning of the pandemic, but inmates and advocates say it wasn’t enough. There have been at least 392,565 cases and 2,516 deaths from coronavirus reported among prisoners — meaning that 1 in 5 prisoners in the United States has had COVID-19, reported the Marshall Project, despite restrictions on visits that have left many in isolation.
Earlier this month, inmates escaped from their cells at the St. Louis Justice Center and broke windows, threw debris to the ground from the third floor and started fires, protesting "inhumane conditions." Recent studies have chronicled outbreaks due to inmate transfers, scarce testing resources and personal protective equipment as well as vaccine hesitancy — especially among prison guards.
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