March 2020 Newsletter

March 2020 Newsletter

The Coronavirus is like a hurricane upending everything and everybody in its path.  Prisons are especially vulnerable to being engulfed by the virus with catastrophic results.  Below you will find four different articles about the danger coronavirus (covid-19) poses to jails and prisons, including steps that authorities can take to mitigate the danger.  You will also find a sample letter that you can send to Governor Hogan, Governor Northam, to Mayor Bowser, and to Attorney General Barr asking them to take steps to reduce the number of people incarcerated in the prisons and jails under their authority.  

This special addition of the IAHR Newsletter will conclude with our monthly letter from prison from MarQui Clardy, Jr.   He spells out in some detail what it is like to be in isolation in a Virginia prison.  

IAHR will be sending out a second newsletter next week that will review the status of legislation on solitary in Maryland and Virginia.  It will also describe efforts to transfer to the District of Columbia the U.S. Parole Commission.

Articles on the Threat of Coronavirus to the Incarcerated 

Sample Letters to be sent to Governors Hogan and Northam, Mayor Bowser, and Attorney General Barr   

"Recreation in Solitary Confinement:" Letter from Prison by MarQui Clardy, Jr.  

Articles on the Threat of Coronavirus to the Incarcerated

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Prison Policy Initiative

No need to wait for pandemics: The public health case for criminal justice reform

We offer five examples of policies that could slow the spread of a viral pandemic in prisons and jails - and would mitigate the everyday impact of incarceration on public health.

by Peter Wagner and Emily Widra, March 6, 2020

The United States incarcerates a greater share of its population than any other nation in the world, so it is urgent that policymakers think about how a viral pandemic would impact people in prisons, in jails, on probation, and on parole, and to take seriously the public health case for criminal justice reform.

Below, we offer five examples of common sense policies that could slow the spread of the virus. This is not an exhaustive list, but a first step for governors and other state-level leaders to engage today, to be followed by further much-needed changes tomorrow.

Quick action is necessary for two reasons: the justice-involved population disproportionately has health conditions that make them more vulnerable and making policy changes requires staffing resources that will be unavailable if a pandemic hits.

The incarcerated and justice-involved populations contain a number of groups that may be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. Protecting vulnerable people would improve outcomes for them, reduce the burden on the health care system, protect essential correctional staff from illness, and slow the spread of the disease.

Click here to read the five recommendations.


The Coronavirus Could Spark a Humanitarian Disaster in Jails and Prisons

The pandemic may shut down courts and leave people languishing in cells. 

Police officers stand guard following prisoners’ revolt against measures including a ban on family visits introduced to contain the COVID-19 outbreak at the Sant ’Anna prison in Italy.  Piero Cruciatti/Getty Images

As the number of people diagnosed with the coronavirus starts to creep up in states around the country, fears are rightfully sparking about the impact of this outbreak on a critically vulnerable group of people: those incarcerated in our jails and prisons. The danger of infection is high in these crowded, unsanitary facilities—and the risk for people inside and outside of them is exacerbated by the “churn” of people being admitted and released at high rates. For example, in Florida alone, more than 2,000 people are admitted and nearly as many are released from county jails each day.

These concerns are very real and should be urgently addressed. But there is another danger that is getting lost as we start to address them: that jails, prisons, and court systems may, in response to the pandemic, reflexively heighten restrictions on the people they have incarcerated, thereby worsening their conditions, and also chilling the criminal justice process by which their rights could be vindicated and their freedom granted.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

New York Times

An Epicenter of the Pandemic Will Be Jails and Prisons, if Inaction Continues

The conditions inside, which are inhumane, are now a threat to any American with a jail in their county — that’s everyone.

By Amanda Klonsky

Dr. Klonsky leads a prison education organization.

March 16, 2020, 5:00 a.m. ET

The housing unit for inmates at Rikers Island Correctional Facility.  Credit...Todd Heisler/The New York Times

If you think a cruise ship is a dangerous place to be during a pandemic, consider America’s jails and prisons. The new coronavirus spreads at its quickest in closed environments. And places like nursing homes in affected areas have begun to take precautions at the behest of families and experts. As this new disease spreads, it has become equally important for all of us to ask what steps are being taken to protect the health of people in jails and prisons, and the staff who work in them.

The American criminal legal system holds almost 2.3 million people in prisons, jails, detention centers and psychiatric hospitals. And they do not live under quarantine: jails experience a daily influx of correctional staff, vendors, health care workers, educators and visitors — all of whom carry viral conditions at the prison back to their homes and communities and return the next day packing the germs from back home. How will we prevent incarcerated people and those who work in these institutions from becoming ill and spreading the virus?

This week, the Harris County Juvenile Court in Houston announced that the court wing will be fully closed to all until further notice, after officials reported that a person who had been in the court may test positive for coronavirus. And an employee at a correctional facility in Pennsylvania also tested positive for Covid-19. Thirty-four inmates and staffers there are now in quarantine. On Friday, the Federal Department of Correction announced that incarcerated people at all 122 federal correctional facilities across the country will not be allowed visits from family, friends or attorneys for 30 days, in response to the threat of the coronavirus. But this ethical sacrifice raises more questions than it answers about the broader set of changes that will be required to limit this contagion while protecting the rights of incarcerated people.

Click here to read the rest of the article

Sample Letters to Governors Hogan and Northam, and Mayor Bowser

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Dear Governor Northam or Hogan:

I am a resident of (Maryland or Virginia).  I am very concerned that (Maryland or Virginia) prisons are especially vulnerable to the ravages of the coronavirus.  I am asking you to use your executive authority to reduce the number of people incarcerated in state prisons and county jails.  You can release incarcerated people who are awaiting trial and who not been convicted of a crime.  You can also release elderly incarcerated men and women who no longer are a threat to society.   You can also eliminate revocations of parole or probation for technical violations.  Please act quickly.  Lives are at stake.

Sincerely, Your Name

Dear Mayor Bowser:

I am a resident of the District of Columbia. I am very concerned that the DC Jail is especially vulnerable to the ravages of the coronavirus.  I am asking you to use your executive authority to reduce the number of people incarcerated in the jail.  You can release incarcerated people who are awaiting trial and who not been convicted of a crime.  You can also release elderly incarcerated men and women who no longer are a threat to society.   Please act quickly.  Lives are at stake.

Sincerely, Your Name

 Dear Attorney General Barr:

I am a resident of (Maryland, DC, or Virginia).  I am very concerned that federal prisons are especially vulnerable to the ravages of the coronavirus.  I am asking you to use your executive authority to reduce the number of people incarcerated in the Bureau of Prisons. You can release incarcerated people who are awaiting trial and who have not been convicted of a crime.  You can also release elderly incarcerated men and women who no longer are a threat to society.   You can also eliminate revocations of parole or probation for technical violations.  Please act quickly.  Lives are at stake.

Sincerely, Your Name

Recreation in Solitary Confinement

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Marqui Clardy, Jr.

The word dreadful may best describe the way I felt the first day I was placed in that small, cold, empty, isolation cell, and heard the door lock behind me. I still remember sitting on the bunk looking around at what would be my new home for the following few days, weeks, or months. [I had no idea how long the administration would keep me in there. It ended up being 51 days.] I remember how my heart began beating so hard, I thought it would burst; how my breathing became ragged as if I'd just finished running a mile; how sweat beads dotted my forehead and pooled under my armpits; and how I struggled to calm my mind from tricking me into believing the walls and ceiling were closing in on me. The officers didn't allow me to bring my TV with me. I was given my CD player, but I wasn't allowed to have any CDs or my 

adapter, and I had no batteries. On top of that, my library books were taken from me, even though that was clearly the time I would need them the most. I had no idea how - or if - I would survive being stuck in there with nothing to stimulate my mind and help ease the boredom.

On day #2 of my isolation, I was shocked beyond words when the officers entered the pod and announced, "REC CALL! REC CALL! GET READY FOR OUTSIDE REC!" Then, cell by cell, they began opening the doors and escorting everyone outside. This surprised me because I'd been under the impression that isolation meant I'd be locked inside my cell 24 hours a day and would only be allowed out once every three days to take a shower. So of course, I was beyond elated about being able to get out of that stuffy cell and go outside, work out, maybe shoot some hoops, and socialize with a few other people I knew who were also in segregation. "Maybe the hole isn't as bad as I'd assumed," I thought to myself as I stood at my door eagerly awaiting the officers.

My elation quickly dissipated, however, when the officers escorted me outside to the segregation rec yard. It was unlike anything I would've ever imagined.

In fact, it wasn't a rec yard at all. Instead, there was a long row of about 60 kennels stretching along the back and side of the building, and there was one offender locked inside each of them. My jaw hit the ground so hard, it might've triggered an earthquake somewhere. Never in my wildest dream would I have thought there would be a place in America where they'd have human beings locked inside kennels like they were dogs. The only difference was that these kennels sat on the concrete instead of in the grass. The sides and top were made of the same metal fencing as actual dog kennels, and there were chains wrapped around the gated doors to lock the inmates in. I couldn't believe my eyes.

After taking me to my kennel, the officers locked me inside before returning to the building to bring out the next offender. I was in such a state of shock that, even now, almost ten years later, it's difficult to describe how humiliated and dehumanized I felt. The inside of the kennel was about the same length and width of a cell (if not a little smaller). The height, however, was decidedly lower. I could reach up and touch the roof of the kennel with no effort. In all, the dimensions were about 8 x 8 x 8. There wasn't enough room to run around. None of us were given any workout or sports equipment, or anything useful for actual recreation. I couldn't even do jumping jacks because my hands kept hitting the "ceiling" of the kennel. There was literally nothing to do in there but sit down or pace around ... like a dog.

Socializing with other offenders I knew was also out of the question because, as I stated, the kennels were lined up in one long row, and I didn't know either of the offenders in the kennels to my left or right. The officers didn't allow us the luxury of choosing where they put us - even though it couldn't have hurt - so no one usually ended up next to their buddies. Also, shouting between kennels wasn't allowed, so even if I ended up in close proximity to someone I knew (if they were a few kennels over, for example), I still wouldn't have been able to communicate with them if it required shouting. Doing so would result in an infraction that could lead to more time in solitary confinement.

One of the worst things about being inside those kennels was that we were completely vulnerable to the outside elements. The only clothing we were given were underwear, shower slippers, and an orange 'SEGREGATION' jumper. We weren't given coats, so if it was cold or snowing, we'd freeze. We weren't given hats, so if the sun was beating down on us, we couldn't block it. We had no raincoats, so if it was raining, we'd get wet. No matter the weather, once the officers put us in those kennels, we had to stay outside for the whole hour. Sometimes, it wouldn't start raining until we'd already been put out there, and we would be stuck. Whenever I see those ASPCA commercials depicting helpless dogs outside shivering in the cold rain, abandoned by their owners, I remember those days in those kennels.

It didn't take me long to realize that going outside was not a break from the psychologically onerous conditions of solitary confinement. After all, I was still being isolated in a small, confined space with no mental stimulation. There were times I'd go to my hour of outside rec, only to realize that I would've been better off staying in the relative comfort of my cell. I'm not sure what lawmakers had in mind when they enacted the legislation mandating that offenders in solitary confinement receive a daily hour of recreation, but surely it wasn't this. Recreation hour in solitary confinement is no less inhumane than being inside the cell. The only difference is the fresh air.


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