End Mass Incarceration, Breeding Ground for Coronavirus-Act Now!

The coronavirus pandemic has turned prisons into breeding grounds for the pandemic. We are asking you to take the following actions in support of this campaign:

Please join with scholars and activists Angela Davis and Gerald Horne, Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquível, Global Women’s Strike founder Selma James, former Colombia Senator Piedad Córdoba,  Basque Nation Senator Gorka Elejebarrieta, and other international human rights defenders and organizations to make three demands to the nations of the world, and one in particular to the United States:

  1. Freedom for each inmate of an advanced age and for all those persons incarcerated for nonviolent crimes.
  2. That they guarantee that the prison population and whoever works there have the tools and the conditions necessary to prevent exposure to the coronavirus.
  3. That they maintain the medical personnel with the tools and access to clinics to permit them to confront this pandemic.
  4. That the United States abandon the model of mass incarceration and its expansion to other countries. We also demand that the countries involved in Prison Imperialism abandon this model.

These demands are being circulated as part of the Open Letter on Mass Incarceration, U.S. Prison Imperialism, and Coronavirus. Copies are being mailed directly to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, the Inter-American Court for Human Rights, and authorities of the U.S., Mexican, Honduran, El Salvadoran, and Colombian governments, as well as other nations following the mass incarceration model.

BACKGROUND

In this time of pandemic, mass incarceration is a threat to global public health, yet the U.S. government continues to spread this model around the world. Fortunately, the model is meeting global resistance.  Mass incarceration, in turn, serves a yet larger purpose: to quell resistance, criminalize refugees, and lock away masses of people disrupted and uprooted by economic, ecological, and public health collapse in a world that prioritizes the profits of the few over the many. Prison imperialism spreads mass incarceration as a tool to protect the profits and power of the obscenely wealthy. Now, it is putting the entire world at risk as global jails become coronavirus time bombs exploding into the world at large.

A brief and incomplete survey of what is happening right now regarding world jails, prison imperialism, and coronavirus:

  •  Prison protests ranging from hunger strikes to peaceful demonstrations to uprisings have taken place in the United States, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Palestine, Italy, and other places internationally.
  • In large part because of the peoples’ demands, some prisoners have been released to ease the spread of coronavirus, but not anywhere near what is needed. These include some 80,000 in Iran, 3,000 in Sri Lanka, 30,000 in Indonesia (10% of the prison population in a system with a 200% level of overcrowding), and 25,000 in Myanmar, (25% of a prison population with a 139% rate of overcrowding). Colombia, with a 50% rate of overcrowding and jails noted by the poor health care and unavailability of adequate water, is planning to release up to 10,000 prisoners. Even Saudi Arabia has suspended sentences for debtors and released 250 persons for immigration violations. The U.S.  and various other countries associated with prison imperialism have made some modest releases, but nowhere near what is required. The call for prisoners to be freed has been made by UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, and by various judges and prosecutors of many nations. There is growing momentum for this movement, and if we seize the moment, we may achieve victory.
  •  In Colombia, where the U.S. oversaw the complete restructuring of the country’s jails, the director of the prison system, General Norberto Mujica, is facing multiple charges of sadism and intimidation, including accusations confirmed by prison system staff and the head nurse of Bogota’s La Picota prisons.¡This is the same prison system director that presided over the March 23, 2020 La Picota massacre of 23 inmates, wounding 83, who were protesting the lack of measures to address coronavirus.
  •   In U.S. immigrant detention centers, filthy and crowded conditions, including the jailing of children, have continued. So far, ICE has tested more than 300 detainees for the COVID-19 and at least 124 of them were positive.
  • In the United States, as testing begins to take place on a limited basis in some prisons, alarming trends are already becoming apparent. On April 10, 2020, 276 inmates tested positive for coronavirus in Cook County Jail, Illinois. On April 17, 2020, more than half those tested at the state prison in Florence, Arizona were positive for coronavirus.  On April 20, 2020, it was revealed that 1,828 prisoners and 109 staff tested positive for coronavirus at the Marion Correctional Institution in Ohio, making up a majority of the cases for Marion County, and 20% of the statewide total. As of April 21, 2020, 540 Federal Prisoners and 323 staff have tested positive.

Remember—these are only a few snapshots in a global struggle. To achieve the necessary victories and defeat the threats and assaults against us—we need you!