September 2020 Newsletter
In this issue of the IAHR Newsletter, you will read about our 2nd Annual Human Rights at the Door Program including links to Amy Fettig’s keynote address and to the entire program, an essay from the Prison Policy Initiative on how states and counties are allowing their jail/prison populations to slowly rise, a Letter from Prison by Marqui Clardy, a notice of the next Pen Pal Orientation, and a note on the Jewish New Year.
Please remember to check out Chuck’s blog which has ongoing up-to date information about conditions in prisons and jails in Virginia, DC, and Maryland.
If you have not yet made a donation to IAHR, you can do so by clicking here.
2nd Annual Human Rights at the Prison Door Program
Pen Pal Orientation-Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Changes in the Incarcerated Population during Covid-19
Letter from Prison: Herd Immunity
Happy New Year to Jewish Community
Over 100 people attended IAHR’s 2nd Annual Human Rights at the Prison Door Program. Human Rights Hero Awards were given to
- Maryland Delegate Jazz Lewis for his work to end the abuse of solitary confinement in Maryland prisons
- Louis Sawyer, Jr. for his leadership of the DC Reentry Task Force and his support for returning citizens and
- The ACLU of Virginia for their work on highlighting the abuse of solitary confinement in Virginia Prisons and for their advocacy to end that abuse.
This year, IAHR awarded a special award to Suzanne O’Hatnick for a lifetime dedicated to human rights work in the United States and Europe. This award is called the “Suzanne O’Hatnick Human Rights Award.” Each year a special human rights activist will be selected to receive this award named after its first recipient.
A special feature of the program was an address by Amy Fettig, the executive director of the Sentencing Project. Her topic was “Reimagining Criminal Justice in the United States.” Click here to view Amy’s talk.
Interested in writing to incarcerated people in the Federal Bureau of Prisons? Attend the next Pen Pal Orientation on Wednesday, September 30 at 7:30 p.m. For more information and to register for the orientation please contact John List.
Initial policy changes that resulted in quick and necessary decarceration have slowed, despite the growing infection and death rate of COVID-19 in prisons and jails.
by Emily Widra, September 10, 2020
After the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, it became painfully obvious that people incarcerated in jails and prisons would be uniquely vulnerable to both the spread of the disease and the more serious medical consequences of the disease due to the high prevalence of preexisting health conditions.
Now, when all of the top 10 clusters of COVID-19 in the U.S. are linked to prisons and jails, and with the 997 COVID-19 deaths behind bars surpassing the number of COVID-19 deaths in 19 states and Washington, D.C., state and local governments should be redoubling their efforts to reduce the number of people in confinement. But our most recent analysis of jail and prison populations shows that many of the efforts to reduce incarcerated and detained populations have actually slowed–and even reversed in many counties and states.
- Jail populations dropped quickly at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the local authorities who run jails have not sustained those efforts and populations have started to rise over the last two months. Across the 451 county jails we analyzed, 98% of the jails saw population decreases from March to May, with an average population reduction of 33%. But 82% of jails had population increases from May to September, suggesting that most jurisdictions have abandoned the efforts to decarcerate that made such crucial changes early in the pandemic. In 88 counties, jail populations are higher now than they were before the pandemic, including in some large counties like Wayne County (Detroit), Michigan, where the jail population on March 10th was 2,086 people and is now over 2,400 people.
This graph contains aggregated data collected by NYU’s Public Safety Lab and is an update of the first graph in our August 5th briefing. The Public Safety Lab is continuing to add more jails to their data collection and data was not available for all facilities for all days, so these graphs show jails where the Lab was able to report data for at least 150 of the 178 days in our research period. To smooth out most of the variations caused by individual facilities not being reported on particular days, we chose to present the data as 7-day rolling averages.
Letter from Prison: Herd Immunity
By Marqui Clardy
Scientists estimate that between 50 - 70 percent of a given population needs to be protected against a virus, whether by vaccine or by having contacted the virus and developed antibodies, in order for the population as a whole to be free from large outbreaks. Since the government has yet to approve a vaccine, this threshold, known as "herd immunity," may be what ultimately ends this pandemic. According to the New York Times, parts of some densely populated cities such as London, Mumbai, and NYC that had record numbers of COVID cases may have already reached the threshold and are on the path to recovery. Well, as someone who's also living in a densely populated environment that was hit hard by this virus and is recovering, I'm witnessing firsthand how herd immunity works.
Over the past two months, the majority of the prisoners at this institution were infected with COVID. The unsatisfactory manner with which this pandemic was handled here - which I expounded upon in previous essays - made a large outbreak inevitable. We were all tested around May or June (before the outbreak exploded), and only a handful of those tests came back positive. However, once those cases began spreading, the virus quickly swept through the entire institution. The problem is that, barring a few serious cases, most of us were never retested, which of course means we were never officially diagnosed with COVID in the institution's records. But, documented or not, I know for a fact that there were hundreds of positive cases here because almost everyone got sick and displayed about two weeks' worth of the exact same symptoms, including: chest and nasal congestion; muscle and bone aches; simultaneous hot flashes and chills; fever, fatigue, and COVID's ultimate telltale signs, loss of taste and smell. Instead of retesting everyone, the medical staff lazily attempted to identify infected offenders by coming into each housing unit and doing daily temperature checks.
This year the Jewish new year falls on Saturday and Sunday, September 19 and 20. The new year marks a 10 day period of spiritual introspection. The goal is for each person to become more accountable for the sins he or she may have committed, to acknowledge, to make amends if they involved hurting other people, and seeking forgiveness.
One of the special rituals of the holiday is the sounding of the ram’s horn 60 to 100 times (there are different customs) during the service. The sounding of the ram’s horn is a call to God signaling that the community is ready to be held responsible for their actions. It is a call to the community to awake and be ready to be held accountable. The ram’s horn also symbolizes the community’s readiness to accept God as the true sovereign.
The period climaxes on the 10th day, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This is a day dedicated to a 24 hour fast, to prayer, to asking forgiveness from other people and from God, and to study. Yom Kippur begins at sundown on Sunday, September 27 and concludes shortly after sundown on Monday, September 28.
We wish all our Jewish friends a happy and sweet new year.