Mass incarceration and the pandemic (II)

The British Prison Governors’ Association submitted to the House of Commons Justice Committee (which on April 8 considered prisoner releases in closed session) that 15,000 non-violent prisoners need to be released to give the jails any chance of managing COVID-19.

The Department of Justice has suggested releasing 4,000 of whom just 2,000 have been identified, according to Craig Murray’s blog.

As of a couple of days ago, only about 100 had actually been released.

The prisons are now practising “cohorting” across the estate, although decisions currently lie with individual governors. Prisoners who have a cough – any cough – are being put together in segregated blocks. The consequences of this are of course potentially unthinkable.

There have been two Covid-19 deaths in Belmarsh prison, where Julian Assange is being held, so far. For obvious reasons the disease is ripping through the jail like wildfire.

The Department of Justice is admitting to one death, and refuses to give statistics for the number of cases. As even very sick prisoners are not being tested, the figures would arguably not mean much anyway.

As the court heard at the bail application, over 150 Belmarsh prison staff are off work self-isolating and the prison is scarcely functioning. It is the most complete definition of lockdown. 

From Nova Scotia, El Jones, who has been reporting for the Halifax Examiner about critical issues in prisons long before the monopoly media started paying some attention due to Covid-19, posted today (April 10) on Facebook:

“The Nova Institute for women is completely locked down. Limited phones even for lawyer calls, no movement. Everyone is extremely stressed and tension is high. Two women have been tested for COVID-19 and have been quarantined.

“Edit: update: tests are apparently negative. Lack of movement, mental health challenges, etc. remain.”

In addition, she informs that “tensions (are) rising in Springhill prison. Prisoners finally convinced guards to wear masks while on shift but not everyone is wearing them. Despite CSC saying they were ending transfers, prisoners transferred out to Renous (the isolated federal penitentiary in northern New Brunswick) after confrontations with the guards as stress levels go up. Lots of elderly guys with cancer etc. No movement on releases.”

CBC reports that “An Edmonton Institution inmate has had his phone privileges suspended (for 45 days) after speaking to the media about conditions inside the maximum-security prison during the pandemic.” Jonathan Henry, 32, although scheduled to apply for parole in May, courageously spoke out against the callous indifference of the prison to the threat posed by the virus, stating that guards went so far as to ridicule and mock the prisoners for their concern. 

The CBC had apparently also released his name publicly, enabling prison authorities to levy the punishment. Henry’s lawyer called the prison’s response “draconian.”

Ms Jones underlines: “Those of us who collaborate and work with incarcerated people know exactly how officials act and how much they abuse their power. Nobody should be shocked CSC/the institution would do this, and CSC (Correctional Services Canada) should be rightfully dragged and exposed but also the media has to think much more carefully about what happens when you ask people whose freedom is entirely at the mercy of others to not be anonymous under some idea that otherwise the testimony isn’t credible. It’s not just losing phone privileges: it’s being put in isolation, being transferred away from family, being sent to a higher security institution, being denied parole, etc.”

Gerald and Maas Night’s Lantern on March 28 informed:

CBS News reported on March 26th that the U.S. Attorney General instructed the Bureau of Prisons to “increase the use of home confinement,” which would release to their homes prisoners-at-risk of COVID-19, at the discretion of the Bureau of Prisons. There have been releases of small numbers of nonviolent prisoners at local levels. An Alabama judge Ben Fuller bravely ordered the release of minor-crime-accused in county jails causing a law enforcement uproar. Elsewhere, in Los Angeles county 1,700 were released.

In early March the government of Iran released 54,000 inmates.

Since the option for release is available and its principle established, detention facilities could be held responsible for the effects of COVID-19 on prisoners, particularly prisoners who are accused pre-trial and all those who present no threat to the population. This includes all U.S. political prisoners whose presence in prison is usually a result of their attempts to find justice for their communities. 

The Nuclear Resister has put out a call for the release of Dr. Rafil Dhafir, currently serving in a low security Pennsylvania prison after years in a supermax. He has served over 17 years for basically, sending food and medical aid to Iraqi children when Iraq was “sanctioned” by the U.S.. His release date is Nov. 24, 2021. Dr Dhafir is over seventy. Resisting what has amounted to a genocide in Iraq, he shouldn’t be in prison.

The Nuclear Resister has also noted Amnesty’s call for the release of Leonard Peltier. Peltier at 75 is at medical risk and his numerous health concerns have been mentioned through these pages over the years.

Partial sources: “Barr tells federal prisons to send inmates home in response to coronavirus outbreak,” Clara Hymes, March 27, 2020, CBSNews; “A Judge Ordered The Release Of Low-Level Prisoners Because Of The Coronavirus. People Were Absolutely Furious,” Emmanuel Felton, March 27, 2020, BuzzFeed News; “Coronavirus: Scotland may release prisoners close to end of sentences,” Libby Brooks, March 28, 2020, The Guardian; “Iran Releases 54,000 Prisoners to Contain Coronavirus Spread,” Emma Tucker, March 4, 2020,“Immediate support action needed for Dr. Rafil Dhafir, Humanitarian Political Prisoner,” March 28, 2020, The Nuclear Resister“The COVID-19 crisis underscores the need to release Leonard Peltier,” Zeke Johnson/Amnesty International, March 26, 2020, The Nuclear Resister.


About 300 inmates at Chicago jail test positive for coronavirus

Press TV – April 10, 2020

Almost 300 inmates at a Chicago prison have tested positive for the novel coronavirus that has killed at least 18,000 people across the United States and infected more than 475,000 individuals.

The Cook County Jail on Friday reported that 276 prisoners tested positive for the COVID-19 this week, according to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D). In addition, 115 prison staff have also tested positive for the virus.

The development has fuelled fears about coronavirus outbreaks among the prison populations across the US, which has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world.

The 4,500-person Chicago has the largest reported coronavirus outbreak within an American prison so far.

“First and foremost, no one should be locked up if they’re not a danger to the community or a flight risk,” Lightfoot told CNN. “And certainly not because they can’t afford to pay bail.”

The family of a prisoner who died in custody filed suit against Cook County and Sheriff Tom Dart on Thursday, claiming he was shackled while died of the virus, according to the New York Times.

Human rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union have urged US prison authorities to release nonviolent prisoners during the pandemic to mitigate the spread of the virus, but most of the US states have refused to do so. Only a few states, such as California, announced last month that it planned to release 3,500 nonviolent offenders.

The attorney for Washington, DC, Timothy Shea, last week opposed release of prisoners amid the coronavirus pandemic, arguing that “violent criminals” should not be set free.

She expressed the opposition in response to an emergency motion filed by the Public Defender Service general counsel.

According to the motion, outbreaks of COVID-19 “are far from speculative — they are imminent, with confirmed positive cases [at the jail] now approaching double digits.”

The Public Defender Service general counsel introduced the motion after several inmates in Washington jails tested positive for the coronavirus.

There are concerns about the conditions of prisoners in American jails as the pandemic is growing fast across the US states amid a shortage of medical supplies.

For your Information: Political prisoners in the United States

(January 8, 2020) – Night’s Lantern starts the year with updates for U.S. political prisoners. Some are suffering inhumanly long sentences as targets for law enforcement control programs. Some are prisoners of war in our society’s ongoing war on the poor. Many are pawns in a corporate prison industry that places as many people in prison as possible for profits, where imprisonment becomes a way of life for the survivors, or a kind of death sentence. In part political prisoners represent all prisoners and all peoples subject to the over-ruling greed of the unjust.

Imam Jamil Action Network [] has asked those who care, to call and ask friends to call the Bureau of Prisons and request cataract surgery for Imam Jamil Abdullah al-Amin. Diagnosed with Smoldering Myeloma (considered a precancerous condition), treatment is being denied. The number to call at USP Tucson is (520) 663-5000 and al-Amin’s inmate number at Tucson is 99974-555. For those concerned with injustices of this case, the Action Network has posted the confession by another man to the killing of officers Imam Jamil Abdullah al-Amin was charged with killing and convicted of: “The Otis Jackson Confession,” Imam Jamil Action Network [access:< >] (“Imam Jamil Al-Amin denied cataract surgery – Call Bureau of Prisons,” Imam Jamil Action Network, Jan. 4, 2020, San Francisco BayView)

Bill Dunne is being added to our Political Prisoners pages. Arrested in 1979 for aiding and abetting the escape of Artie Ray Dufur and auto theft, Bill Dunne was sentenced to 80 years in a federal prison. He received an additional sentence of 15 years when he attempted to escape prison in 1983. This amounted to an inhuman sentence of 90 years in prison for non lethal crimes attempting freedom – release date 2043 (“Dunne, Bill,” current, National Jericho Movement).

Denied parole ten times Robert Seth Hayes was released on parole July 24, 2018. He suffered serious and frequently untreated medical difficulties throughout his 45 years in prison; before parole these conditions included hepatitis C, diabetes, bleeding, abdominal growths, trouble breathing. He was 72 years old and at home when he ceased to be of our world, Dec. 21, 2019 (“Rest in Power Robert Seth Hayes!” Freedom Archives, Dec. 23, 2019, Prisoner News).

Last May Russell “Maroon” Shoatz was in hospital unable to keep fluids down, nausea and stomach pain. By August he was found to have stage 4 cancer. He’s currently being treated. Donations are requested to help cover the costs: “Free Russell Maroon Shoatz!”. His illness follows a successful legal battle against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) (Shoatz was released into the general prison population from an over 22 year stretch of solitary confinement), and a statement by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture that conditions of his imprisonment were uncivilized.

According to a posting by his family and friends, Dr. Mutulu Shakur was diagnosed with malignant bone cancer this past October. After a year delay since he noticed pain and a four month delay since the Doctor requested a CT scan, suspecting cancer, and the diagnosis was confirmed. Dr. Mutulu Shakur at 69 is already known to suffer from diabetes and high blood pressure, high cholesterol as well and his sight is hampered by glaucoma. Compassionate release on health grounds was applied for to the Bureau of Prisons by his legal team and denied this past December 5th. He’s currently undergoing chemotherapy. His original trial judge is being petitioned for release. A federal judge in California is being petitioned for his release under a habeas corpus request, due to previous unjust denials of parole. Dr. Shakur joins a number of U.S. political prisoners who have contracted cancer since arrest (” Mutulu Shakur – December 2019 Medical and Legal Update,” Freedom Archives, Dec. 14, 2019, Prisoner News).

This suggests prison conditions lead to or advance the illness of political prisoners through contaminated or unhealthy environments, bad water, intentional psychological damage, contaminated food, institutional diets, spatial conditions which prohibit psychological healing and health, and physical regimens including isolation intended to destroy a person’s psychological and then physical resistance. I remember that Phil Berrigan died of a fast moving stomach cancer probably contracted in prison. Marilyn Buck contracted cancer in prison which was not addressed quickly and which she died of on compassionate release. The prosecution and unjust long sentence for Lynne Stewart because of cancer became a death sentence though she was also granted a compassionate release. Imam Jamil Al-Amin is known to have contracted blood cancer. And there’s the recently diagnosed cancer of Russell Maroon Shoatz. And now Dr. Shakur is among those whose fight against cancer is known to these pages.

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