Prison as Public Health Threat



I think we are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel we all call 2020. Like you, I’m not sure what the end of the year will look like or how many more surprises will show up. Right now it looks like the rest of November isn’t going to be a good month for Covid, so please take care of yourself. #WearAMask!


What I hope is that you, who are reading this, are well and safe. That your loved ones are also well and safe.


In the last 7 months, we’ve all had the chance to experience something together - the pandemic. It’s brought some of us closer and shined a light on some of the broken parts of our country and our systems.


We’ve read tons of articles and memes and tropes on what people think about being in lock down, having to wear masks, the spread and when will we get to the other side of this. I’ve poked a couple of people who talked about quarantine as if it were like being in prison and informed them that its nothing like prison; not even close. Ellen Degeneres made the mistake of calling lockdown in her multi-million dollar home like being in prison and she got a lot of push-back about it.


We’ve received many letters from our students about Covid in prison and of course there are stories in publications I follow, such as the Marshall Project or the Prison Project Initiative, sharing information about being in prison during the pandemic. It is far far worse than you and I being stuck at home.


“A prison is now a public health threat,” said Armen Henderson, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Miami.


The Washington Post published an article on November 12, 2020 about the pandemic in prisons, written by Cid Standifer and Frances Stead Sellers and it included this statement: “More than 173,000 inmates nationwide have contracted the coronavirus, and almost 1,300 have died, according to the UCLA Law Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project. At least 37,000 corrections workers have tested positive and 78 have died. A study prepared for the National Commission on Covid-19 and Criminal Justice reports that the rate of coronavirus cases in federal and state prisons is more than four times the national rate. When adjusted for age, sex and ethnicity, the mortality rate in federal prisons is twice that of the general population.”


Being in prison is a health threat!


Many of the stories and articles I’ve read on what’s happening in prisons are profoundly sorrowful. Prisons are notoriously dirty and crowded places. It is impossible to social distance. Some prisoners share that they don’t even have soap to wash their hands and sick inmates are put in cells with healthy inmates only to infect everyone.


Prisoners are often moved from one prison facility to another. This is one way that Covid has spread. No masks, no soap, no disinfectant. Crowded to overcrowded facilities. Lack of health care. Lack of care for our fellow human beings.


At College Guild, our mission is to provide incarcerated people an opportunity to change their lives when often there are no resources in their prison facility to help them do this. Our students continue to encourage us that they will be ok and their big concern is that College Guild will continue to be here, allowing them the opportunity to grow and change and learn.


We cannot fix all the problems happening in prisons due to Covid but for those incarcerated people that choose to be students of College Guild, we can change their lives. Whether you are a reader or someone who helps to support this program financially - you are making a difference for our students right now in the midst of this pandemic.


by Mary G. Malia

Executive Director


image from Penal Reform International: https://www.penalreform.org/resource/global-prison-trends-2020/


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