Even in a state like Ohio, which has taken proactive measures to stop the spread of coronavirus, the disease is quickly sweeping through congregant environments such as jails and prisons. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has only announced tentative steps to reduce jail and prison populations. Advocates say it’s not enough. Likewise, in correctional facilities across the country, such as Rikers Island, Cook County jails in Chicago, and the Washington, D.C. jail, the virus is wreaking havoc. NPR’s Ryan Lucas reported that 30 facilities in the Bureau of Prisons system have confirmed cases. But for some states, this spread isn’t truly tracked because they still don’t have enough tests.The prisons and the immigrant detention centers have become centers of COVID-19 infection, just like ships. The only reasonable things to do is release as many non-dangerous prisoners as possible and space out the remaining ones, as many asylum-seekers as quickly as possible, and stop detaining undocumented aliens. This will reduce the spread of COVID-19, not only in the prisons and detention centers, but throughout their staffs and the general population.
Meanwhile, ICE detention is a worsening nightmare. That was the headline on a story I did two weeks ago and it continues to be true. ICE detainees are civil detainees, so ICE has full discretion to release them. But immigrant rights groups have been forced to sue to secure these releases. County jails often hold ICE detainees, and my reporting shows that they are often ill-prepared. ICE’s unchanged protocols, the ACLU’s Eunice Cho told me, are actually making the spread worse. Not to mention that ICE is still deporting people and adopting a ‘business as usual’ attitude. Meanwhile, the fight to close immigration courts rages on—spearheaded in part by the National Immigration Judges Association, the judges’ union and immigration activists. Some courts have closed after a staff member tests positive, only to reopen a few days later.
And, of course, crickets. The Trump administration justifies its policies in part by claiming a threat from immigrants; it can scarcely reverse itself now.
So. The prisons and immigration detention centers have now turned into death camps. It is happening here.
(Added) And this was foreseen.
The Covid-19 outbreaks now surging through many of the nation’s prisons and jails weren’t just predictable, they were predicted. And not just by the prisoners themselves and their family members in increasingly desperate tones over the past month but also by some sheriffs and jailers and corrections officials and their union representatives. And not just by those behind bars but by lawyers and doctors and criminal justice advocates and professors, hundreds of them, in every nook and cranny of the country, all of whom understood how dangerous and deadly the pandemic would be once it found its way into cramped, dirty, overcrowded cells.
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