Prisons Are a Public Health Crisis — and the Cure Is Right in Front of Us
The best way to curb pandemics like Covid-19 is to abolish the conditions that breed their spread
This article is part of Abolition for the People, a series brought to you by a partnership between Kaepernick Publishing and LEVEL, a Medium publication for and about the lives of Black and Brown men. The series, which comprises 30 essays and conversations over four weeks, points to the crucial conclusion that policing and prisons are not solutions for the issues and people the state deems social problems — and calls for a future that puts justice and the needs of the community first.
As we deal with the scourge of Covid-19, which has killed more than 210,000 people and rising, policy and public health experts are clamoring for strategies to stop the spread of the virus, in absence of credible and competent leadership at the federal level. Most of what works (without a vaccine or highly effective treatment that reduces transmission to others), is known — if unevenly practiced or implemented.
There is inspiring work happening in the U.S. and globally around how to reduce transmission of Covid-19 (or any future airborne pathogens) in settings like prisons, jails, and detention centers. Yet, much of what is being discussed seriously are meager reforms that would only slightly reduce the number of people in those settings or releasing people who have comorbidities such as old age, asthma, and heart disease that may make them more vulnerable to illness and death should they contract Covid-19. Some of the reforms, like the use of biometrics and regular temperature taking (despite knowing many people can carry and transmit Covid-19 even while asymptomatic), introduce more forms of surveillance into prison and jail settings.
Very few of these plans acknowledge that these spaces create opportunities for the spread of infectious diseases. If we know that to be the case, public health activists who are truly interested in social and racial justice should in fact be calling for the abolition of the prison industrial complex as part of a strategy to reduce the possibility of current and future epidemics.