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Prison Covid News 1-3, 2020

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
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COVID-19
COVID 19 IInformation
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Volume
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August
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August
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2020
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WHY HAS COVID-19 NOT LED TO MORE
HUMANITARIAN RELEASES?
By Dan Berger
alil Muntaqim, a Black Panther imprisoned since 1971, is one of thousands
of elderly prisoners the United States
has refused to free during the pandemic.
In 1971, two weeks shy of his twentieth
birthday, Anthony Bottom, a young Black
Panther, along with another Panther, Albert
Nuh Washington, were arrested following
a shootout with San Francisco police. The
pair would be tried along with a third man,
Herman Bell, for a separate attack: the May
killing of two New York City police officers. They were convicted and sentenced
to twenty-five years to life, the maximum
penalty in New York at the time. The judge
who sentenced them said the sentence was
befitting a society at war.
Even the most liberal of U.S. governors
would rather risk their prisons turning into
mass graves than offer the faintest of admissions that mass incarceration is unnecessary for public safety.

J

CONTENTS
Humanitarian Releases............1
U.C. Health Experts .................3
Covid News Summaries...........4
Congress Woman's Bill ............6
Anti-COVID Strike at WSP .......6
The Reynolds Six .....................7
Breaking News .........................8
Virus Behind Bars ....................9

Bottom had first joined the Panthers in
the weeks immediately following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. In
prison, Bottom converted to Islam and
adopted a new name, Jalil Muntaqim. After almost five decades of incarceration,
Muntaqim has racked up a laudatory file
of accomplishments. He earned two bachelor’s degrees before Bill Clinton ended
Pell eligibility for incarcerated people. He
cofounded an organization, the Jericho
Movement, dedicated to the release of U.S.
political prisoners. He has received numerous accolades from human rights organizations for his dedication to social justice. He
has taught poetry, history, and alternatives
to violence classes for other incarcerated
people. When I first began corresponding
with him nearly two decades ago, he was
organizing a fundraiser for AIDS orphans
in Africa.
In 2002 Muntaqim became eligible for
parole. Yet the Patrolmen’s Benevolence
Association—the revanchist police fraternity that has shielded abusive cops and pursued aggressive forms of social control—
lobbied heavily against it, as it has every
time he has come up for parole. The PBA
even set up a website to monitor the schedule of parole hearings for anyone convicted
of killing a police officer, allowing visitors
to send an automatically generated letter to
the parole board opposing consideration of
release.
For decades, the PBA effectively controlled the parole board, and such pressure
ensured Muntaqim would be denied parole
every two years. Each time he has been denied parole, the board has stated that its decision is based not on his deeds in prison or
his readiness for release, but on the nature

of his crime. Since that can never change,
PBA pressure renders the parole board irrelevant. Every prison sentence becomes a
de facto death penalty—as became evident
when one of Muntaqim’s codefendants, Albert Nuh Washington, was denied compassionate release for stage IV liver cancer. He
died in a prison hospital in April 2000.
When COVID-19 struck, Muntaqim’s
advocates argued before the state that his
life was in grave peril. Fourteen of the top
twenty pandemic outbreak clusters have
been prisons and jails, and incarceration
creates and exacerbates a number of health
problems. At sixty-eight years old, having
lived for fifty years in prison—and having
survived a stroke, hypertension, and heart
disease—Muntaqim is at extreme risk of
dying from COVID-19. He is one of more
than 9,000 people over the age of 55 who is
incarcerated in New York. An estimated 10
percent of the nation’s prison population is
in this high-risk age group. Yet governors
have thus far refused to act on clemency for
elderly people.
Recognizing the precarious situation,
the New York State Supreme Court ordered Muntaqim’s temporary release at the
end of April. In granting it, Judge Stephan
Schick said, “Mr. Muntaqim may have gotten a 25-to-life sentence, but it was not a
death sentence.” The state Black, Puerto
Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative
Caucus agreed, offering a letter of support
for his release. Yet the state—led by Attorney General Letitia James, the first black
woman to occupy that role—appealed Sullivan’s ruling. As the appeal wound its way
through the courts, Muntaqim sickened. On
May 25, he was transferred to the Albany
Medical Hospital with COVID-19. Ten

days later, with damage to one of his lungs,
his kidneys, and liver, Muntaqim had recovered enough to be transferred back to
the prison infirmary. That same day, June
4, the Appellate Division reversed Judge
Schick’s ruling. Muntaqim, the court said,
must remain in prison.
New York’s intransigence fits with a
national pattern that the pandemic has
revealed. For while a number of municipalities shrunk their jail admissions in the
early months of the pandemic, no state has
meaningfully reduced its prison population. Jails generally house people who are
awaiting trial but who are too poor to make
bail or who are serving short sentences,
whereas prisons house people who have
been found guilty and sentenced to a year
or more. In the restrictive purview of elite
empathy, then, jails have been an easier
sell for massive reduction. According to
an analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative,
local municipalities have reduced their jail
populations by an average of 31 percent.
State governments and the federal Bureau
of Prisons, meanwhile, have reduced their
incarcerated population by an average of
just 5 percent. Typically, this has meant a
release of a few hundred people—some of
whom have not been released but merely
transferred to home confinement.
The carceral1 state is anticipatory violence masquerading as responsive force.
A number of states have created an almost nonexistent category of those warranting release: people over fifty-five who
are serving time for nonviolent drug offenses and who are within three months of release. Yet few of the many septuagenarians
in our nation’s prisons meet this restrictive
categorization. As the group Release Aging
People in Prison (RAPP) noted in its evaluation when New York governor Andrew
Cuomo created this impossible category,
98 percent of the people over 55 incarcerated in New York are excluded from consideration for release under Cuomo’s plan.
Meanwhile New York prisons remain the
epicenter within the epicenter, the highest source of outbreak in the state with the
largest number of cases. As of June 9, the
state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision reports 1,282 prison
staff and 512 incarcerated people have
tested positive for the disease. Yet due to
low levels of testing, the comorbidities2 of
1. Editor's Note: The "carceral state" means all the
formal ins tu ons of the criminal jus ce system. It's
a polite way of saying "police state."
2. Editor's Note: Comorbidi es is the simultaneous

2

incarceration, and the generally abysmal
levels of health care inside, four times as
many incarcerated people as staff die from
the pandemic. And the vast majority of
those who have died have been black or
Latinx—higher even than the already disparate rates at which New Yorkers of color
outside of prison have succumbed to the
pandemic. RAPP calculates that 81 percent
of the deaths in prison since the pandemic
began, both related to COVID-19 and not,
have been people of color. Black people account for 14 precent of New York state, 50
precent of the state’s prison population, but
60 percent of the deaths since the pandemic
began.

And it's not just New York. Washington governor Jay Inslee was widely
praised for his commitment to sciencebased responses to climate change and
the pandemic. Yet even in a proclamation
declaring that elderly people are at particular risk of contracting the pandemic and
that prisons are too crowded for people to
practice effective social distancing, Inslee
only committed to releasing a few hundred
people from a state prison system that confines 19,000. Inslee’s order pertained only
to those who fall into the elusive category
that political scientists Marie Gottschalk
has called the “non-non-nons”: nonviolent, non-serious, non-sexual offenses. Inslee added a further narrowing claim that
required people to be within three months
of their release. In Pennsylvania, advocates
have grown so weary of Governor Tom
Wolf’s refusal to engage in widespread releases that they launched a hunger strike on
June 1.
Governors nationwide have pursued
similarly limited initiatives. This is the reform conjured by focus groups and vetted
by police unions, not the one backed by
data. Five decades of mass incarceration

has so thoroughly limited the imagination
of political elites that even a pandemic cannot dislodge their belief in the necessity of
mass incarceration. Their refusal of a broad
humanitarian release of incarcerated senior
citizens serving lengthy sentences—really
the lowest of bars—reveals, in its absurd
perverseness, a deeper truth: even the most
liberal of U.S. governors would rather risk
their prisons turning into mass graves than
offer the faintest of admissions that mass
incarceration is a colossal failure and unnecessary for public safety.
If liberal politicians struggle to admit
this fact, conservative politicians continue to run in the opposite direction, insisting that the carceral state alone stands
between civilization and chaos, despite all
evidence to the contrary. In a speech that
branded Antifa—an umbrella term for antifascism activists—domestic terrorism,
Attorney General William Barr menaced
would-be demonstrators by saying, “It is a
federal crime to cross state lines or to use
interstate facilities to incite or participate in
violent rioting.” He promised to “enforce
these laws.” The law in question is part of
the 1968 repressive Anti-Riot Act that was
appended to the otherwise laudatory Fair
Housing Act. Legislators rushed to pass
this bill after King’s assassination and the
tinderbox it lit nationwide; they colloquially referred to their repressive cri de coeur
3
as the “Stokely Carmichael bill” in honor
of the charismatic SNCC leader whose incendiary talks white legislators blamed for
antiracist uprisings.
Spontaneous uprisings are by nature unpredictable, yet a cogent demand is emerging from coast to coast: “Defund the police.”
The carceral state is anticipatory violence
masquerading as responsive force, and
Barr has been preparing for this moment
for a long time. Last August, Barr praised
police as “fighting an unrelenting, neverending” war and deserving of “ticker-tape
parades.” Barr has actually made it harder
for incarcerated people to get out of federal prison during the pandemic and then
placed the whole federal prison system in
lockdown. Yet he was quick to criminalize
the nationwide protests against police violence. He promised to utilize the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), a collaboration
between federal and local police that began
in 1980 to stop a rash of bank robberies (including those allegedly committed by the

presence of two chronic diseases or condi ons in a
pa ent. "the comorbidity of anxiety and depression
in Parkinson's disease"

3. "cri de coeur" a passionate outcry (as of appeal or
protest)

Prison Covid News

Black Liberation Army). This amounts to
a federal redefinition of any protest against
police as terrorism. The nation’s jails and
prisons stand ready to detain the latest targets of America’s long war.
Police departments heard the message
clearly, as they have targeted largely nonviolent demonstrations with a seemingly
endless amount of tear gas, flash grenades,
clubs, tanks, pepper spray, and mace. In the
past two weeks, we have witnessed a national police riot, complete with numerous
actions that would qualify as war crimes.
New York police clubbed peaceful demonstrators, then charged at them with SUVs
(this has been reported in Boston as well).
In Philadelphia police cordoned demonstrators onto the highway and then gassed
them all with no place to escape. Later,
other officers posed for photographs with
armed white vigilantes. Washington, D.C.,
police shot tear gas inside a private residence after the homeowner sheltered fleeing demonstrators. Louisville police had
no body cameras on when they shot and
killed a black restauranteur who frequently
served police. Around the country, police
have obscured their badge numbers before
engaging in unceasing violence. All this in
stark contrast to the muted response police
gave armed reactionaries at state houses
just weeks ago. The police, writes critic
Alex Parene, have taken the side of white
vigilantes.
Meanwhile Muntaqim and hundreds
of thousands of other incarcerated people
have been abandoned to the courts and
COVID-19. In the face of federal threats
to break the backs of protestors, though,
the actions against state violence continue.
By returning daily to the streets, violating curfews, seizing hotels shuttered by
COVID-19, caring for each other amidst
a pandemic and a rampaging police state,
and pulling down racist statutes, thousands
of Americans display heroic courage. They
are willing to give their lives to the work
of remaking the country by ending policing and incarceration as we know them.
Spontaneous uprisings are by nature unpredictable, yet a cogent demand is emerging
from coast to coast: “Defund the police.”
Every day in the streets of U.S. cities and
towns, these rebellions seek to overturn the
police state that consolidated in opposition
to Muntaqim and other black radicals of the
1960s. For in moving to defund police, we
must also act to dismantle the prison system where many victims of police violence
reside. 
Volume 1, Number 3

UC HEALTH EXPERTS: SAN QUENTIN
CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK COULD
POSE THREAT TO ENTIRE BAY AREA
By Kellie Hwang and Mike Massa,
San Francisco Chronicle
team of UC Berkeley and UCSF
health experts warned prison medical officials in mid-June that they’d
need to cut the population of San Quentin
State Prison in half to avoid a potentially
“catastrophic” outbreak there.
But prison officials didn’t heed the warning and, since then, confirmed coronavirus
infections among prisoners have rocketed
from 48 to 456, far outpacing any other facility in the state and overwhelming a system that waited too long to react.
The memo by a team of health experts
warned that conditions were already “dangerous” and the only
way to control the
situation would be to
reduce the prison’s
population. The massive outbreak at San
Quentin was sparked
by California corrections
officials’
mishandling of the
transfer of infected
prisoners from another prison.
The memo, submitted to the statewide
correctional health care system on June 13,
warned that San Quentin has “profoundly
inadequate resources” to deal with the surge
of cases, and failure to quickly address the
crisis could have “dire implications” for
the Bay Area, straining community hospitals and risking the health of incarcerated
people and prison employees alike.
No prisoners at San Quentin tested positive for the coronavirus in March, April or
May. It was only after state corrections officials transferred 121 incarcerated men to
the prison from a virus-swamped facility in
Southern California that the outbreak occurred. The transferred men were not tested
for up to a month before they were placed
on buses, The Chronicle reported, and after
they arrived at San Quentin, the virus began to spread quickly. At least 1 of every 8
residents at San Quentin are now infected,
and more than 40 staff.
They sent the memo to California Correctional Health Care Services, the federally appointed provider of medical care in
the state prison system. (The arrangement

A

is the result of a long-running federal lawsuit over conditions in the state prison complex).
While the memo is a public document,
it has not been previously released. The
memo was provided to The Chronicle by
the Prison Law Office, which is suing the
state over the quality of prison medical
care.
The memo argues that it’s difficult, if
not impossible, to create “social distance”
inside a prison, particularly one like San
Quentin, an aging facility with “exceedingly poor ventilation, extraordinarily close
quarters exacerbated by overcrowding, and
inadequate sanitation,” the scientists wrote.
“We therefore recommend that the prison
population at San
Quentin be reduced
to 50% of current capacity (even further
reduction would be
more beneficial) via
decarceration.”
There are about
3,500 prisoners in
San Quentin. A 50%
cut in population
would leave 1,750.
“An outbreak in North and West blocks
could easily flood — and overwhelm —
San Quentin as well as Bay Area hospitals,” they wrote in the memo, adding that
they were concerned about older residents
dying if they get infected.
Another area of San Quentin, the gymnasium, has been turned into an open dormitory, with prisoners bunked closely together. The health experts wrote that they
found this appalling and said it could lead
to “a catastrophic super spreader event.”
Another dorm in San Quentin, known as H
Unit, houses hundreds of men in bunks.
The Berkeley and UCSF scientists urged
the state to develop an emergency response
team to manage the growing outbreak, to
speed up the testing process, and to assemble a field hospital for treating sick prisoners and separating them from the healthy.
The experts raised an alarm about the lack
of space inside the prison to isolate the infected from the uninfected.
Health Experts......... Continued on page 6
3

Black inmates make up a
disproportionate share of Covid19+cases in prison
Data from the Vermont Department of
Corrections shows that while black inmates
were almost 9 percent of the total prisoners
tested for Covid-19 in the state, they made
up nearly 18 percent of the prisoners who
have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Black inmates were also 2.2 times more
likely to test positive than white inmates.
https://vtdigger.org/2020/06/16/blackinmates-make-up-a-disproportionateshare-of-covid-19-cases-in-prison/
In Brazil's overcrowded jails,
COVID-19 breeds fear and calls for
change
As COVID-19 deaths rise in Brazil’s violent and overcrowded jails, activists have
called for tens of thousands of prisoners
to be released to stop the disease taking a
heavy toll on inmates, most of whom are
young black men.
https://www.reuters.com/article/ushealth-coronavirus-prison/in-brazils-overcrowded-jails-covid-19-breeds-fear-andcalls-for-change-idUSKBN23N0LF
As COVID-19 spreads In prisons,
lockdowns spark fear of more
solitary confinement
Prisons across the country have placed
prisoners on lockdown — they're kept in
their cells mostly around-the-clock — as a
way to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Now prison reformers are worried that the
response has increased the use of a practice
they've long fought: solitary confinement.
https://www.npr.
org/2020/06/15/877457603/as-covidspreads-in-u-s-prisons-lockdowns-sparkfear-of-more-solitary-confinemen
Coronavirus cases rise sharply in
prisons even as they plateau
nationwide
Prison officials have been reluctant to do
widespread virus testing even as infection
rates are escalating.
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/16/us/
coronavirus-inmates-prisons-jails.html
4

More than 1 out of 3 tested federal
inmates were positive for
coronavirus
More than 35% of federal inmates who
have tested for coronavirus were positive,
according to The Bureau of Prisons.
https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/testedfederal-inmates-positive-coronavirus/
story?id=71275461
With COVID-19, it’s time to move
towards prison abolition
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed
inequities throughout our economic, political, and social systems. Perhaps nowhere is
this injustice more pronounced than in our
jails, prisons, and detention centres. As the
number of inmates and detained persons infected with COVID-19 across Canada continues to rise, it is vital that we reconsider
our society’s attitude towards incarceration
as a tool for solving complex social problems.
https://ricochet.media/en/3188/withcovid-19-its-time-to-move-towards-prisonabolition
San Quentin: outcry after Covid-19
cases at California prison triple in
two weeks
The number of coronavirus cases in
California’s San Quentin state prison has
tripled within the last two weeks, prompting advocates, families and attorneys to demand urgent action to fast track the release
of prisoners and curb the spread among
correctional officers.
https://www.theguardian.com/usnews/2020/jun/18/san-quentin-covid19-cases-california-prison
All inmates to be tested for
COVID-19 at state prisons in North
Carolina
Officials have announced that all inmates
will be tested for COVID-19 at state prisons in North Carolina. The announcement
of this testing comes after a court order that
all inmates be tested.
https://www.wbtv.com/2020/06/18/
all-inmates-be-tested-covid-state-prisonsnorth-carolina/
Coronavirus Update: Illinois
released white inmates at higher
rates in pandemic, report says
White inmates in Illinois are having their
sentences shortened during the coronavirus pandemic at a higher rate than Black
inmates. 3,400 people early from Illinois
prisons between March 1 and June 4. Less

than half (46%) of inmates released early
were Black, even though Black inmates
make up 54% of the state prison population. Meanwhile, 43% of inmates who were
released early were white, even though
whites make up about 32% of the prison
population.
https://abc7chicago.com/illinois-released-white-inmates-at-higher-rates-inpandemic-report/6257415/
Overcrowded prison accounts for
nearly quarter of all prison
COVID-19 cases
One dangerously overcrowded prison
in Alabama has nearly a quarter of all the
state’s confirmed COVID-19 cases among
inmates and staff.
https://www.alreporter.com/2020/06/19/
overcrowded-prison-accounts-for-nearlyquarter-of-all-prison-covid-19-cases/
COVID-19 cases jump at southern
NM lockup
State health officials say 55 additional
state inmates and nine more federal inmates have contracted COVID-19 at the
Otero County Prison Facility, which has
had four deaths related to the virus and
nearly 650 cases. The New Mexico Corrections Department says 362 of its 497
inmates at Otero County prison have COVID-19 – or 73%.
https://www.abqjournal.com/1468275/
covid-19-cases-jump-at-southern-nmprison.html
Mississippi reports 83 COVID-19
cases in inmates and employees
The Mississippi DOC released the number of inmate and staff who tested positive
for COVID-19. MDOC is reporting a total of 83 cases in inmates and employees.
51 inmates and 32 employees have tested
positive for coronavirus, according to the
numbers posted June 19.
https://www.wjtv.com/news/mdoc-reports-83-covid-19-cases-in-inmates-andemployees/
Covid-19 continues to spread in
UAE prisons
The coronavirus pandemic is continuing
to spread inside the prisons in the United
Arab Emirates amid claims that the authorities are covering up the extent of the outbreak and have refused to provide the true
number of inmates infected with the virus.
https://www.middleeastmonitor.
com/20200622-covid-19-continues-tospread-in-uae-prisons/
Prison Covid News

Covid-19 imperils packed Egypt
prison
Fears are mounting over the safety of
prisoners in Egypt’s notorious Tora prison,
as rights groups say parts of the complex
have been cordoned off to quarantine those
diagnosed with coronavirus. Families of
prisoners said efforts to contain virus are
purely cosmetic.
https://www.theguardian.com/globaldevelopment/2020/jun/22/it-would-spreadquickly-in-those-cells-covid-19-imperilspacked-egypt-prison
Gov. Wolf: Pennsylvania reduced
prison population by record-setting
3,471 since March 1
Governor Tom Wolf announced today
that since March 1, the population of those
in state correctional facilities has been reduced by 3,471 individuals, the largest
multiple-month decrease ever experienced
by the Department of Corrections and one
that helped the department reduce the number of COVID-19 cases in facilities.
https://www.governor.pa.gov/newsroom/
gov-wolf-pennsylvania-reduced-prisonpopulation-by-record-setting-3471-sincemarch-1/
Judge denies state request to withhold some information about
COVID-19 prison precautions
A judge has denied a request from the
N.C. Department of Public Safety that
would modify an order to allow the agency
to keep from reporting certain information
about COVID-19 in prisons. Wake County Superior Court Judge Vince Rozier, Jr.
signed an order that found DPS had likely
violated prisoners’ constitutional rights by
failing to properly protect them from the
virus.
https://www.wbtv.com/2020/06/22/
judge-denies-state-request-withhold-someinformation-about-covid-prison-precautions/
‘A moral failure’: California not
tracking jail inmates and staff
infected with coronavirus
More than three months into the coronavirus pandemic, California officials say
they still have no plans to collect and publish basic data about COVID-19 testing and
outbreaks in local jails.
https://www.sacbee.com/news/coronavirus/article243724172.html
Covid-19 continues to spread in
UAE prisons
Volume 1, Number 3

The coronavirus pandemic is continuing
to spread inside the prisons in the United
Arab Emirates amid claims that the authorities are covering up the extent of the outbreak and have refused to provide the true
number of inmates infected with the virus.
https://www.middleeastmonitor.
com/20200622-covid-19-continues-tospread-in-uae-prisons/
COVID-19 spreads in women’s
prison where sexual abuse
prompted federal probe
In a women’s prison where federal authorities said the state failed to protect
prisoners from sexual abuse,two prisoners
had died from COVID-19 at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women near
Clinton, while 114 inmates and 77 staff had
been confirmed with the virus, according to
the latest data from the Department of Corrections.
https://www.njspotlight.com/2020/06/
covid-19-spreads-in-womens-prisonwhere-sexual-abuse-prompted-federalprobe-say-inmates-and-advocates/
States engaged in 'gross
negligence' in Covid-19 response in
jails and prisons, new report finds
States have responded to the threat of
Covid-19 in jails and prisons with "gross
negligence," according to the ACLU and
the Prison Policy Initiative. As of June 22,
more than 570 incarcerated people in the
US and more than 50 corrections officers
have died due to Covid-19, the report said.
Jails and prisons have become hotspots
for new cases. Despite the warnings, the
systems failed the incarcerated, the report
concluded.
https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/25/health/
state-response-covid-jails-prisons-trnd/
index.html

Inside the U.S.’s largest maximum
security prison, COVID-19 raged
Inmates at Angola prison in Louisiana
told ProPublica of widespread illness,
dysfunctional care and deadly neglect as
the coronavirus outbreak hit. As prisoners
died, officials called their response to the
virus a "success."
https://www.propublica.org/article/

inside-the-uss-largest-maximum-securityprison-covid-19-raged
Courts try to fast track release of
thousands of low-risk prisoners
amid COVID-19 outbreak
California's Governor said that the state
hopes to expedite the release of several
thousand low-risk inmates at state prisons
such as San Quentin that have seen outbreaks of the COVID-19 coronavirus in
their populations.
https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.
com/2020/06/24/coronavirus-courts-tryto-fast-track-release-of-1000s-of-low-risksan-quentin-inmates-amid-covid-19-outbreak/
In the middle of a pandemic,
prisoners at San Quentin are
punished for being sick
Ralph Diaz, secretary of the California
Department of Corrections and "Rehabilitation", asked state prisoners to tell a doctor or nurse if they feel symptoms of COVID-19, and said that doing so would help
stop the spread of the virus and keep everyone safe. At San Quentin, however, prisoners are reluctant to report when they’re
sick—everyone knows they’ll be sent to
The Hole, where prisoners are kept in the
punishing conditions of solitary confinement.
https://theappeal.org/san-quentin-stateprison-coronavirus-solitary-confinement/
The coronavirus crisis inside
prisons won’t stay behind bars
Federal officials recognized the danger
of the spread of coronavirus in prisons
early, but have dragged their feet releasing
at-risk inmates.
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/25/
opinion/coronavirus-prisons-compassionate-release.html
Wisconsin receives an F+ grade for
handling of COVID-19 in prisons
isconsin has received an F+ grade from
the national American Civil Liberties
Union and the Prison Policy Initiative for
its handling of the COVID-19 coronavirus
crisis in prisons, according to a report just
released.
https://madison.com/wsj/news/local/
crime-and-courts/wisconsin-receives-anf-grade-for-handling-of-covid-19-in-prisons/article_d9f9597c-8f73-55ca-9f16a031aa876674.html
Virus News ............. Continued on page 10
5

Health Experts..... Continued from page 3
“It is a frightening public health reality
that in a matter of days there may be no
cells to isolate a potentially infectious COVID-19 patient,” they wrote.
This warning proved prophetic: In the
last few days, San Quentin has run low on
cells with solid doors for isolating patients
and is now trying to turn other housing
units into COVID-19 wards.
The health experts also wrote that corrections officers and nurses at San Quentin
are not always wearing masks, even though
they are required to, and officers commonly move between housing units during the
course of their shifts, potentially carrying
the virus from place to place.
“This is an enormous risk for the spread
of COVID-19 between units,” the memo
concluded.
During a news conference about COVID-19, a Chronicle reporter asked Gov.
Gavin Newsom if the state planned to release large numbers of incarcerated people
at San Quentin and other California prisons
dealing with big outbreaks.
“You’re right,” Newsom said. “San
Quentin is a concern.” He said that a plan
to release about 3,500 nonviolent offenders
throughout the state system is already in
the works, set to begin on July 1, and people who qualify under that program at San
Quentin may be released sooner. But he did
not commit to the sort of sweeping release
that the UC experts say is necessary.
“We don’t want to just throw people out
on the streets and sidewalks,” Newsom
said. “That wouldn’t be humane, either.” 

Free Electronic Copy
Outside folks can have a free
electronic copy of this newsletter emailed to them each month.
Have them send a request for a
digital copy to:
contact@prisoncovid.com
Also, back issues can be downloaded or read online under the
Newsletter menu at:
https//www.prisoncovid.com
Send article submissions and
letters to:
Prison Covid Newsletter
PO Box 48064
Burien, WA 98148
6

CONGRESS WOMAN PUSHES
TO FREE PRISONERS FROM
"CORONAVIRUS DEATH SENTENCE"

U

S prisons and jails need to move
swiftly to release pre-trial, older
and medically-vulnerable inmates
or face a humanitarian crisis of vast proportions as coronavirus ravages custodial institutions across the country, the Democratic
congresswoman Rashida Tlaib warns.
Tlaib has introduced new House legislation that would use federal funding as leverage to push states to reduce their incarcerated populations during the coronavirus
crisis. Those inmates eligible under the bill
for immediate release for up to a year after
the pandemic ends would include:
• inmates awaiting trial
• those serving misdemeanor sentences
• immigrants in Ice detention
• pregnant women and primary caregivers
• inmates over 55 or those medically-susceptible to coronavirus
The bill, known as the Dismantle Mass
Incarceration for Public Health Act, is one
of the boldest efforts yet to tackle mass incarceration amid the pandemic.
“This bill is just the start of a goal to end
mass incarceration for all, something our
local and national advocacy groups have
been fighting for decades,” Tlaib said.
As the coronavirus pandemic has swept
the country, correctional facilities, alongside nursing homes and meat packing
plants, have become major hubs of disease.
According to the New York Times, all of
the top five clusters of the virus across the
US are now in prisons and jails.
Modelling by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has warned that US
jails alone could act as such powerful incubators of the illness they could add another 100,000 deaths to the current toll of
121,000. So far that catastrophe has not
been realized, with latest estimates suggesting that 627 inmates and staff have died and
with 70,000 confirmed cases of infection.
But those numbers are likely to be gross
under-counts given the extremely low rate
of diagnostic testing in custodial institutions. The virus has also proven itself capable of ripping through custodial environments at terrifying speed.
“We have an incarceration epidemic that
has devastated black communities for decades. So yes, the nationwide protests are
happening because of police brutality but

bigger structural change also needs to happen,” Tlaib added.
She pointed out that in her home state
of Michigan the costs of incarceration distorted public spending. “We have high rates
of poverty, housing crises, the water isn’t
clean yet in Flint – and the number one
budget line-item in the state of Michigan
is corrections. Not education, not public
health, corrections,” she said.
Tlaib recalled what one of her constituents told her recently: “Being poor and
black in America always leads in some sort
of way to being hit by police or the prison
industry.” 
https://www.theguardian.com/usnews/2020/jun/26/rashida-tlaib-prisonscoronavirus-covid-19

DOC Confirms Partial Food
Strike At Walla Walla Pen.
On June 16 a Tri-Cities TV station reported the food strike was started to bring attention to what the inmates perceived as poor
practices regarding COVID-19, according
to two family members of inmates. The report said complaints revolved around the
inmates not seeing proper use of personal
protective equipment by food handlers and
not receiving proper gear themselves. The
Penitentiary has confirmed four cases of
the virus since the pandemic began. Two
staff members and two prisoners have had
the virus, according to the DOC website.
This newsletter has received additional
reports from WSP: "On June 26 we were
told in the last two days three people at
WSP BAR units and Adams unit fell out
and are being tested for covid." Also, it
seems guards are not following safety procedures. "On June 20, 2020 at 1:00 pm at
WSP law library two CO's [guards] one of
whom was checking-in inmates were not
wearing face coverings. The inmate law
clerk asked if face coverings were now optional. The CO appeared agitated by this
question and ordered the law clerk to return
to his unit. We spent the session without a
law clerk and we also understood the message: keep your mouth shut. It should be
noted no staff were taking temperatures."
Prisoners can send updates through letters or J-Pay to communicate with us. 
Prison Covid News

THE REYNOLDS SIX ARE ILLUMINATING CORONAVIRUS
OUTBREAKS SOME OFFICIALS WOULD RATHER KEEP IN
THE DARK
June 29, 2020
By Naomi Ishisaka
Seattle Times columnist
other Brown knew something
was wrong. Her son, Isaiah P.
Thomas, 24, had just a few more
months left at the Reynolds Work Release
facility in Seattle after serving time in
Washington Corrections Center in Shelton.
He was excited to be coming home, she
said, but then she suddenly stopped hearing
from him.
It was the “worst fear for a mother,” she
said. “Where’s my child at?”
Brown, who prefers the name Mother
Brown, called, wrote letters, and got nowhere until community members helped
her locate her son. Thomas had been sent
back to the prison in Shelton, along with
four other men, whom community advocates have dubbed the “Reynolds Six.”
The saga of the Reynolds Six began on
May 1, after coronavirus infections inside
the facility led family members of the incarcerated men to protest outside to demand safer conditions for their loved ones.
In what family members say was retaliation for the protest, five of the men were
sent to the Shelton prison, including the
man whose family was leading the protest.
One of the men, Abdizikar Mohammed,
was infected with COVID-19 and sent to
Monroe Correctional Complex. There he
was placed in isolation for 22 days and denied books and treatment, said Columbia
Legal Services attorney Nick Allen — actions Allen said seemed like punishment
for testing positive for coronavirus. All but
one of the men are Black, or Black and Indigenous, and two are Muslim.
The Department of Corrections said the
five sent to Shelton were given disciplinary
infractions — which were all either later
removed or reduced — and then sent to
Shelton for not going back to their rooms.
If the goal was to silence the protest at
Reynolds by putting the men and their
families in more vulnerable positions, it
had the opposite effect. Unlike most of
the millions of incarcerated people in the
U.S. whose circumstances and struggles go
largely ignored, the Reynolds Six have garnered advocates who are doing everything
they can to ensure that their voices aren’t

M

Volume 1, Number 3

lost in the system.
At a June 4 news conference, families of
the men were joined by lawmakers, community organizers, attorneys and other
leaders to raise public awareness of the
dangers of COVID for incarcerated people and to call for the men to be returned
to Reynolds or released to their families.
Weeks after the press conference, four of
the men were sent back to work release,
and two sent home.
The Reynolds Six case is just one example of the coronavirus crisis sweeping
jails and prisons across the U.S. As of Friday, nearly 49,000 cases of coronavirus
were reported among incarcerated people
nationwide, with nearly 550 deaths. These
numbers are likely an undercount due to
insufficient testing. And as of June 16,
“America’s largest jailer,” the federal Bureau of Prisons, had tested only 13% of incarcerated people. Once widespread testing
was done in one Ohio prison, for example,
more than 70% of incarcerated people tested positive for the virus.

In Washington, 143 incarcerated people
have been infected, with the vast majority
from an outbreak at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, where two people have now
died. Of those who have been tested, Columbia Legal Services said that 19% tested
positive, a rate three times the rate of the
general population.
As we increasingly look to transform our
criminal legal system from the ground up,

it’s critical we keep top of mind the 2.3 million people currently trapped in our “American gulag” of mass incarceration, the largest in the world. This can be hard to do, as
the system itself even in the best of times is
designed to make it hard to communicate
with or keep track of incarcerated people or
independently verify what happens within
prison walls.
Coronavirus raging largely unchecked
makes this even harder, as outside visits
are no longer allowed in many places. This
leaves a vulnerable population even more
vulnerable. At the Yakima County Jail, for
example, an outbreak doubled in size over
the past few weeks while jail guards resisted wearing masks. Some incarcerated
people who have tried to bring attention to
their plight have faced solitary confinement
as a consequence.
Aneelah Afzali, the executive director
of MAPS-AMEN (American Muslim Empowerment Network), was one of the community leaders who stepped up to support
the Reynolds Six. “The lives of these six
men and their families have been devastated, all because some family members —
specifically, Black Muslim women — had
the audacity to call for safety inside DOC
facilities in the middle of a global pandemic.”
Gov. Jay Inslee released 950 incarcerated
people to reduce the incarcerated population and prevent the spread of the virus, but
Columbia Legal Services is seeking a much
wider release of 11,700 people. Their initial effort was rejected by the state Supreme
Court in April but they filed a new motion
last week to revisit the case, in light of the
jump in cases and the outbreak at Coyote
Ridge.
As these outbreaks increase, those on the
outside must do everything possible to ensure prison sentences don’t become death
sentences.
Mother Brown just wants to see her son
home safe.
“The men [at Reynolds] are living in a
mixed population,” she said, of people with
coronavirus and people without. “It’s terrifying when we’re at home in our cozy
houses ordered to stay in the house by our
local officials, what’s happening to our
loved ones.” 
7

JUSTICE FOR THE REYNOLDS SIX

T

he Reynolds 6 tried to bring attention to the dangers of COVID-19
outbreaks in DOC facilities. They
were sent back to prison from work release
for trying to address this growing public
health crisis, one that disproportionately
affects Black and BIPOC communities.
After the family of one of the men at
Reynolds Work Release facility advocated
for safer conditions during a COVID-19
outbreak, the Department of Corrections
(DOC) threw six men back in prison. DOC
did this retaliation without due process.
This case is about:
• Public health during the COVID pandemic in DOC facilities.
• Families being unfairly punished for
merely speaking out to protect their
loved ones.
• Racism and abuse from DOC officials
Instead of heeding the call for safety
from Black families, DOC aggressively retaliated by kicking out not only two Somali
men but also three other Black men and
one white man.
The “Reynolds 6” should all be home
with their families right now. Instead, they
thrown back into prison when awareness
was raised about unsafe conditions. We are
all still facing additional time, though public pressure eventually resulted in 3 of the
men being returned to work release.
When reviewed, on their face DOC infractions for the men are flimsy. They were
essentially thrown back in prison for needing to use the restroom... Their charge is
having “went to the bathroom”. This punishment could have been a death sentence.
We remain troubled by the DOC’s denial
of xenophobia and, specifically, anti-Muslim sentiment. These incidents began to unfold during Ramadan. The Muslim members of the group were fasting. The Muslim
man in the group who tested positive for
COVID-19 received egregious treatment
at Monroe prison. Though the DOC denies
being punitive, East African families have
come forward to say that DOC staff began
by badgering their loved ones about social
media posts of women in hijab who raised
concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak at
Reynolds.
The Reynolds 6 case shows that DOC
is handling the COVID outbreak poorly.
They have acted in a way that was meant
to silence families of color in particular.
This behavior is racist and reckless. It
8

seems more likely to have been done to aid
a cover up than to be accountable for medical neglect. In fact, after the men’s transfer
back to prison, they were placed in solitary
confinement, isolated from their families,
and kept from showering and other needed
hygiene. Part of resolving the harm done
means understanding that Black and Brown
people are furthest away from the medical
care they need during the COVID pandemic in DOC facilities. With the Black death
rate is at 3x the rest of the population, we
demand that the DOC release these men
and acknowledge the harm done.
This story impacts the issue of COVID-19 in prisons. As outbreaks grow, how
are prisoners being treated when they are
ill? Covid-19 has hit our prison system and
is being used as a method of punishment
instead of recognized as a reason to prioritize safety. The Reynolds 6 suffered poor
living conditions as Covid-19 made its way
through Reynolds Work Release. One man
was sent to Monroe Prison while sick with
COVID-19 and placed in isolation for 22
days despite having difficulty breathing.
This is a hidden injustices, an example
of what happens when torture and mistreatment are not caught on camera. While some
injustices and crimes against Black people
and people of color are caught on camera,
many more are hidden by the system. The
Reynolds 6 is one of those hidden injustices found within the prison system which
lacks transparency and accountability.
The will of a mothers. We know that
Black people and people of color have a
higher chance of being mistreated by our
justice and prison systems. The fight to
change this is often led by their mothers.
Here are the stories of Seattle area mothers who are trying to bring their sons back
home where they belong.
People are now having a growing collective conversation about abolitionism and
are asking themselves why this movement
is needed. The Reynolds 6 is an example
of how the institution of prison is weaponized and harms communities instead of
helping them. By throwing six men back
into prison during a deadly pandemic, they
torture not only the Reynolds 6, but also
their families. Their mothers, sisters, and
brothers. Their sons and daughters. Their
friends. Their neighbors. Their community.
This impacts everyone who loves, cares,
and depends on them. 

SAN QUENTIN
PRISONERS
HUNGER STRIKE
AMID MASSIVE
VIRUS OUTBREAK

A

s the novel coronavirus spreads
rapidly through California’s San
Quentin State Prison, around 20
prisoners have launched a hunger strike to
protest inhumane conditions inside. The
hunger strike began on June 29th, according to the men, who are incarcerated in the
prison’s Badger unit. As of July 1st, 1,135
prisoners—almost a third of San Quentin’s
incarcerated population—have active COVID-19 infections. 
https://theappeal.org/san-quentin-hunger-strike-coronavirus-outbreak-californiaprison/

PRISONERS AT
LANE COUNTY
ARE STRIKING
DUE TO LACK
OF COVID-19
PROTECTIONS

F

our pre-trial detainees have not eaten
since last Sunday due to a lack of
Covid-19 protections in Lane County Jail. At least one of the four detainees
who is striking is Bryan MacDonald, who
earlier this month along with four other
detainees filed a lawsuit that claims that
health and safety measures enacted within
the jail are not in fact making detainees any
safer. The measures inacted are preventing
social visits, religious gatherings, and ac-

I am no longer accepting
the things I cannot change,

I am changing the things I
cannot accept.
Prison Covid News

cess to speedy trials, while the jail has not
even implemented social distancing measures and new detainees are only quarantined for seven days upon entry to the Jail.
By hunger striking, these pre-trial detainees hope their actions will bring attention
to the faults of the jail and those the lawsuit
was filed against: Governor Kate Brown,
Lane County Circuit Court Judge Charles
Zennache, Lane County Sheriff Cliff Harrold.
Since filing the lawsuit, detainee Bryan
MacDonald has experienced threatening
and occasionally violent behavior from law
enforcement officials within the Jail and
has been placed in solitary-confinement for
21 hours a day. Jail officials are aware of
Bryan’s and the three other detainees hunger strike but are not checking their vitals.
Concerned community members can call
the Jail at (541) 682-4263 to demand that
they check striking detainees’ vitals, as
well as release at-risk inmates, reduce the
population of the jail to ensure social distancing can be followed, and return behindglass social visits as per the demands of the
recently filed motion. 

THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS INSIDE
PRISONS WON’T STAY BEHIND BARS
Federal officials recognized the danger of the spread of
coronavirus in prisons early, but have dragged their feet
releasing at-risk inmates
By The New York Times Editorial Board
he situation inside the nation’s jails
and prisons amid the Covid-19
pandemic has become the stuff of
nightmares. Overcrowding, unsanitary
conditions, shortages of personal protective equipment (not to mention soap) and
restrictions on hygiene products such as
hand sanitizer have turned detention facilities into a playground for the virus and a
death trap for inmates — many of whom,
because of age or pre-existing conditions,
are at elevated risk for complications. And
the threat extends far beyond the facilities
themselves, endangering the families and
communities that surround prison guards,
nurses and other staff members.

T

NO NEW
WOMEN’S PRISON

T

he Washington Department of Corrections is trying to expand the Maple Lane facility in Grand Mound,
Washington into a new minimum security
women’s prison. Before its closure in 2011,
the facility was a juvenile detention center. It is currently being used to “restore”
people awaiting trial who the state deems
“incomptetent.” This new women’s prison
is currently slated for 128 beds but could
eventually hold 700 people. The Thurston
County Board of County Commissioners
temporarily halted the construction of the
prison, but the Department of Corrections
plans to keep pushing for the prison expansion. Our collective -- No New Women’s
Prison -- has formed out of community
concern about the project. We believe that
early release is the solution to overcrowding in WA state prisons -- not prison expansion. We’re united around the values of anti-racism, disability justice, and feminism.
We’d love to hear from you! If you have
any questions or would like to be a part of
our organizing efforts, send a letter to the
following: 824 S Cloverdale St. Seattle,
WA 98108 or Or on JPay at ashleen.obrien@gmail.com
Volume 1, Number 3

Currently, the nation’s top five Covid-19
hot spots are all correctional facilities, according to data collected by The Times.
The number of infected inmates and workers has topped 70,000 — the count doubled
between mid-May and mid-June — and
there have been at least 627 virus-related
deaths.
Even these infection numbers are assumed to be an undercount, since testing
for the virus remains inadequate and uneven. New York State has tested only about
3 percent of its 40,000 inmates, and more
than 40 percent of those tested were confirmed infected. In Mississippi, Alabama
and Illinois, fewer than 2.5 percent of state
prison inmates have been checked. Some
states, like Texas, have moved to ramp up
testing, and their reported cases are soaring. Further complicating the count, some

facilities do not make their testing numbers
public.
Inmates are scared and desperate, and
tensions occasionally boil over. In April,
more than 100 inmates at a prison in Washington State protested after six inmates
tested positive for the virus, and a smaller
uprising occurred at a Kansas facility after
more than two dozen inmates and staffers
tested positive.
Lawmakers are correct that the system
cries out for reform. But the current crisis
was born of both policy shortcomings and
a widespread failure of implementation,
not to mention general dysfunction. As
detailed in a June report by the Marshall
Project, federal prison officials have failed
to protect inmates and the staff in numerous ways. (State prison systems have their
own share of horror stories.) The bureau
has maintained that it’s doing its best in an
impossible situation. But closer scrutiny is
clearly merited, and perhaps stricter oversight by Congress going forward.
America’s inmates have been sentenced
to pay their debt to society. That debt does
not include falling victim to a lethal virus
because of official incompetence. The bureau’s response [to the virus] has been dysfunctional to the point of cruelty. 

A Nation's Treaty Ignored
2.2 Million US Slaves

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a
punishment for crime whereof
the party shall have been duly
convicted, shall exist within
the United States, or any place
subject to their jurisdiction.”
Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution
“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery …
shall be prohibited in all their
forms.”
Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, Article 4,
a treaty the US is a signatory to.
9

Virus News ........... Continued from page 5
Alabama prison employee dies after
coronavirus diagnosis
Alabama Department of Corrections announced late Thursday the staff member at
Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women died after
a recent COVID-19 diagnosis.
https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/
story/news/2020/06/26/tutwiler-prisonemployee-dies-after-alabama-coronavirusdiagnosis/3263499001/
California governor grants clemency to 21 prisoners as thousands
infected with Covid-19
Advocates said the move was deeply inadequate given the scale of the Covid crisis,
which has infected more than 4,000 people
in state prisons, leading to 20 deaths. The
state announced more than 1,000 new cases
in the last two weeks, a surge that advocates and experts say was preventable and
is a result of the state’s negligence.
https://www.theguardian.com/usnews/2020/jun/26/california-clemencycovid-19-governor-prisons

69 Dauphin County jail inmates
have COVID-19, and mass testing
has just started
Sixty-nine inmates from three housing
units have tested positive along with 15
staff members. Those who had symptoms
included elevated temperature or loss of
taste and smell.
https://www.pennlive.com/
news/2020/06/69-dauphin-county-jailinmates-have-covid-19-and-testing-hasjust-started.html
Over 200 inmates, almost 70 staff
members positive for COVID-19 in
Middle Georgia prisons
The Georgia Department of Corrections
publishes the number of offenders who test
positive for COVID-19 daily, and the number of prisoners in Middle Georgia prisons
who tested positive is currently at 202. The
number of staff who have tested positive is
at 69.
https://wgxa.tv/news/local/over-200-inmates-almost-70-staff-members-positivefor-covid-19-in-middle-georgia-prisons
DOC accused of retaliating against
inmates at Seattle work-release

facility over coronavirus protests
Families who protested conditions at
a Seattle work-release facility are accusing the state Department of Corrections of
retaliating by sending six men at the facility back to prison. The six men had been
housed at the Reynolds Work Release facility downtown, but had their work-release
status revoked on what supporters describe
as bogus infractions, after a peaceful demonstration last month by family members
concerned about an outbreak of COVID-19.
https://www.seattletimes.com/
seattle-news/crime/department-of-corrections-accused-of-retaliating-againstinmates-at-seattle-work-release-facilityover-coronavirus-protests/
San Quentin: Covid-19 cases surge
past 1,000
More than 900 of the over 1,000 cases
were diagnosed in last two weeks. Attorneys say the outbreak can be traced to the
transfer of people between prisons.
https://www.theguardian.com/usnews/2020/jun/29/san-quentin-coronavirus-cases-covid-19

Prison Covid
PO Box 48064
Burien, WA 98148

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