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1. I just want to point something out about why releasing people incarcerated in prisons in jails is so important. It's not just about the health and well-being of the prisoners themselves. And we need to stop thinking about the problem purely that way.
2. Because of the infectious nature of viruses, the danger to the prisoners is by definition a danger to other system actors, most especially the corrections officers, sheriffs' deputies, and other staff who interact directly with the prisoners and share tight spaces with them.
3. And again, because of the nature of viruses, the danger to the corrections officers, staff, etc. is by definition a danger to those they interact with and live with, like spouses, also elderly relatives they may care for etc.
4. In rural prison towns in particular, where the prison is one of the largest employers, you could well imagine an outbreak among the prisoners devastating the community *outside the prison.
5. Think about Ontario, Oregon, home to Snake River Correctional Institution. About 10,000 people live in the town. About 900 of them work in the prison. There are also about 3,000 incarcerated people who live at the prison. The hospital in town has *49 beds.
6. Imagine the devastation to the town of Ontario if the virus spreads through Snake River Correctional, as it inevitably will. There will be lots of people sick in the institution and out. There will be a massive need for hospital beds.
7. The solution is to release prisoners who can safely be released. Again, not merely to protect the health and well being of the prisoners, but to protect the whole town.
8. By releasing the prisoners who can safely be released, this will create more space, so that social distancing can more easily occur among prisoners and staff within the prison. This will slow the virus down, flattening the curve.
9. By releasing prisoners, we can also prepare for the inevitable reduction in staff that will result from more and more staff quarantining at home symptoms/a positive test. Otherwise it may be quite a challenge to manage the incarcerated population with far fewer staff.
10. With jails (as opposed to prisons), the harm is also mammoth. The churn in big urban jails each day is significant – tons of people going in and out, often in tight quarters, often for tiny offenses.
11. These are EXACTLY the type of human interactions public health experts are warning us about. They need to stop, as much as possible. We need to stop this churn. Stop the needless arrests that feed people into the system. Stop the prosecutions. End the use of bail.
12. Sure, perhaps there will be a small number of arrests – for serious, violent crime – where some people need to be arrested, prosecuted and perhaps held, but these are a tiny fraction of people brought into the system each day.
13. But again, the reason we need to stop the flow into the system is not just for the health and well being of the people being arrested, it is also for the health and well being of the other system actors, their families, and for the entire community.
14. Again this is what doctors are telling us: we need to social distance, to cease needless physically proximate interaction. That includes arrests, courtrooms, and jails. And that's not for the benefit of the arrestees health, IT'S FOR THE HEALTH OF THE COMMUNITY.
15. To put it differently, your parents' or grandparents' well-being may depend in part on whether your mayor orders the police department to cease needless arrests or whether a judge releases people without bail or a sheriff releases people from the jail.
16. And the health of entire rural communities may depend on whether the governor releases people from the prisons.
17. To put it differently: the virus is a significant challenge to carceral logic. In this moment, the only reasonable approach to public safety is to stop needlessly feeding so many people into the system and to release many people already held within it.
18. Those of us in the criminal justice reform movement need to be clear about this: We need to decarcerate not only to protect the health and well being of incarcerated people; we need to decarcerate because it will make all of us safer.
19. And to system actors, punishment bureaucrats, I would ask this: how many people's grandparents have to die so that you can continue to process people and needlessly hold them? How many communities have to be devastated?
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