Coronavirus (COVID-19) poises a deadly threat to inmates and employees in jails, prisons, and detention centers in Georgia and across the country. These facilities are death traps where COVID-19 will spread like wildfire due to close quarters, overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and high rates of elderly and individuals with health problems plus inadequate healthcare in prison.
Inmates are living in fear that prisons will become concentration camps where death stalks those who are locked in cells without the ability to practice social distancing and where others have control of their environment and whether they live or die.
Unlike Las Vegas where what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, this is not true of prisons because the virus knows no boundaries. Guards and prison employees interact with the inmates and go back into the community where the virus will continue to spread.
Even before COVID-19, there were too many unnecessary people held captive in jails, prisons, and detention centers.
For too long, politicians have used prisons to solve social problems like addiction, mental illness, homelessness, and poverty and this does not work. Prison does not rehabilitate, it dehumanizes, traumatizes and harms those already harmed by addiction, mental illness, and poverty.
Georgia State Prisons
The Georgia Department of Corrections lists the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Georgia State Prisons in this link: http://www.gdc.ga.gov/content/cases
The total confirmed COVID cases in state prisons are 55 employees who are infected and 54 inmates. Currently, state prisons with the most COVID cases are Lee State Prison with 14 staff and 8 inmates; Johnson State Prison 2 staff and 13 inmates; Macon State Prison 2 staff and 7 inmates; Phillips State Prison 5 staff and 4 inmates.
Once the coronavirus gets in a community it doubles every 2 to 3 days.
Fulton County Jail
The Fulton County Jail a/k/a Rice Street Jail would not give the number of inmates who have contacted the virus but they did respond to a few questions from the Streets of Atlanta (SoA) with an email regarding COVID-19.
“Inmates who test positive and have pre-existing conditions were released to Grady Hospital to ensure they received the appropriate medical care and to appropriately quarantine…. Fulton County has ensured everyone released from the jail is appropriately placed with relatives and/or in a community living facility. Specific cases on release are determined by the courts, not the jails,” the email stated.
“Two inmates were released to Grady Hospital and another is in Hospice care,” according to the email.
Fulton County Jail has 16 inmates with COVID, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections. They have released 33 non-violent inmates as of March 30. They house approximately 2,500 individuals.
DeKalb County Jail
The DeKalb County Jail did not respond to phone calls or emails. Most of the numbers are answered by answering machines. The email address for media information never responded to my request for information.
On April 2, Fox5News reported that one employee and two inmates tested positive for the coronavirus at the DeKalb County Jail.
Stewart Detention Center
The official count of COVID-19 at Stewart Detention Center is 5 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among detained immigrants and 7 among the employees at Stewart and with crowded conditions it will spread rapidly.
Georgia Detention Watch Facebook reports that in conversations with immigrants’ family members there are numerous accounts of individuals showing COVID-19 symptoms. Also, individuals detained at Stewart have said they are not receiving adequate medical care, and that Stewart is not following the Center for Disease Control guidelines.
On March 24, 2020, around 350 individuals detained at Stewart participated in a hunger strike to demand safeguards against the coronavirus outbreak as the virus continues to spread among the 2,000 men housed at Stewart in Lumpkin, Georgia.
It has been reported that guards pepper-sprayed some of those participating in the hunger strike.
In other states, violence has broken out as inmates living in overcrowded conditions plead for safety measures to help protect them from the virus.
Brennan Center for Justice
The Brennan Center for Justice recommends prisons, jails, and detention centers must make every effort to release unnecessarily incarcerated people
They also recommend correctional authorities should make telephone and video calls free for the duration of the coronavirus crisis. Also waive commissary fees for soap, toilet paper, and other hygienic essentials during the crisis. Suspend fees and other limitations on access to books and other educational materials
Nearly 40% (576,000) people are in prison with no compelling public safety reason, according to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. Another half a million people are in jails because they are poor and can’t afford bail.
For those convicted of low-level crimes, probation or community service would reduce the prison population by more than one half million people.
79% of prisoners suffer from either drug addiction or mental illness, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. These inmates would be better served with drug treatment programs that are science-based and mental health clinics.
Alternatives to prison would save $20 billion per year and are more effective for 364,000 low-level inmates to be sent to treatment or other alternates.
This is why the U.S. prison population is higher than any other country in the world. The US has about 5% of the world’s population but nearly 25% of its prisoners with more than 2.2 million people incarcerated.http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/uk/06/prisons/html/nn2page1.stm
Georgia Justice Reform Partnership
The Georgia Justice Reform Partnership, a coalition of over 50 organizations, sent their demands in a letter to the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) and the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to act immediately to protect the lives and health of incarcerated people and employees who work in prisons from the coronavirus.
They recommend GDC to review all people who are immunocompromised and provide medical furloughs or compassionate release to as many of them as possible.
Provide hygiene products to incarcerated individuals at no cost, give health screening and isolation for those with symptoms of the virus at GDC facilities.
They recommend for the State Board of Pardons and Paroles to expedite the release of people at high risk for COVID-19 and at low risk for reoffending and to commute sentences of those within 24 months of release.
The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles are considering releasing 200 people serving time for nonviolent offenses who are within 180 days of completing their prison sentence or their tentative parole date.
But this may be too little, too late to stop an overwhelming outbreak in Georgia prisons.
Prison Policy Initiative
The Prison Policy Initiative recommends releasing people with chronic diseases and complex medical needs who are more vulnerable to COVID-19.
Release people held pretrial, with limited time left on their sentence, and charged with non-violent offenses.
Release people for low-level misdemeanor offenses, ordinance violations, traffic offenses, disorderly conduct, probation violations, municipal court convictions, people with little time left on their sentence, pregnant women,non- violent offenses. and third-degree felonies.
Some states and officials across the country are slowly releasing prisoners in order to control the spread of the coronavirus to give at-risk prisoners a better chance of surviving. But the criminal justice system is moving too slowly and too late.
Georgia stands out internationally with more people incarcerated and under parole or probation.