A report dated Sunday, April 12, 2020, 6 a.m. from the Federal Correctional Institution in Ashland, Kentucky:
By now I doubt there is anyone on planet earth who has not been affected by the novel COVID-19, better known as the coronavirus. The virus, which was first diagnosed in China, has very quickly and efficiently spread across the globe to become a deadly worldwide pandemic. COVID-19 is not racist; it isn’t selective; it respects no border — every country has confirmed cases among their population. It has no regard for social status — rich, poor, young, old have contracted the virus. Athletes, entertainers, politicians and royalty alike have been infected.
While rumor, conjecture and conspiracy theories abound, I choose to concentrate on the few facts available to us within the American criminal justice system. To date, there have been some 1,783,941 confirmed cases and 109,312 deaths reported world-wide.
Nationally, 530,006 cases and 20,608 deaths have been confirmed and the figure grows hourly with NYC bearing the brunt of the pandemic in the United States. With no end to the invisible killer in sight these numbers will be grossly outdated by the time this article is set for publication.
The latest information available regarding the Department of Justice and Bureau of Prisons is nearly a week old and becoming rapidly outdated as well as institutional changes in response to the virus are being made daily. Unfortunately, as a nation we seem to be more reactive than we are proactive toward the virus and have rapidly come to eclipse “ground zero” China in both the number of cases and the number of deaths.
We also seem to be in a panic over the pandemic. Much to our shame, the National Public Radio has reported that emergency medical personnel have been evicted from their homes, kicked off buses and have even had chemicals thrown on them by people who fear they may contract the virus from our brave front line medical workers. Is this what America has become? I’ll stay in prison where it’s safe, thank you.
In Chicago, the Cook County Jail has reported 350 cases of COVID-19 among the inmate population in just the last two weeks, while regional and county jails in every state examine the possibility of releasing low-risk, non-violent offenders. Even the feds are looking at releasing a (very) few inmates as well.
Additionally, on the federal level, the TSA has reported some 31 agents, including 24 passenger screening officers have tested positive for the coronavirus while the first ICE detainee confirmed positive for the virus was reported at the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack, N.J.
The ACLU and Amnesty International-USA have joined together in calling for the release of all ICE detainees, citing, “the documented inadequacies of medical care and basic hygiene in immigrant detention facilities”. Such an argument could be made for virtually ever local, state and federal lock-up in the country. In the Carter County Detention Center in Grayson, Kentucky, which primarily houses federal inmates awaiting designation, you receive one roll of toilet paper each week but can buy more for $1.05 a roll — limit two. But you can purchase as many e-cigarettes as you want for around $13 each.
So far there have been no cases reported among the staff or inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution in Ashland, Kentucky, where I am located. But FCI-Ashland is a very old, very vulnerable open dorm style facility which staff members agree would be devastated if hit by COVID-19. So far, the preventative measures, while inconvenient, are working here.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.