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It was a sad day at FCI Sandstone when we were informed that Mr. Redfox, a fellow inmate, had died of COVID-19.

Deaths are higher than previously thought for people ages 25-44, yet there is no special housing for young inmates with serious health conditions through FCI Sandstone, infecting hundreds and even putting the warden himself on a breathing machine for months.

Redfox’s death was completely avoidable. He was a 60-year-old man who could have been let put on home confinement. He was considered a “minimum risk to recidivate” at a low-security facility. He was there to serve a sentence and go home, but instead he was given a death sentence.

Federal prisons are not designed to keep people safe from disease. They are designed to be human chicken coops so prison profiteers can rake in billions in taxpayer money. This is exacerbated by outdated sentencing guidelines and judges that want to retire with million-year sentencing trophies to stoke their ego on the way out the door. They hand out 15- and 20-year sentences and never miss a wink of sleep at night.

If the government refuses people their constitutional rights in prison, how long before they refuse people their constitutional rights outside prison?

Because of excessive incarceration, we have an explosion in the senior population in prison. These people are at higher risk of death from COVID-19, which prisons are not properly protecting inmates from.

Half the problem is that prisons are grossly overcrowded. Inmates need to be in single cells to social distance, and overcrowding makes this impossible. But putting inmates together in cells means each inmate can infect the other inmate with the deadly disease, which is what happened to Redfox.

What’s worse, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital have said deaths are higher than previously thought for people 25 to 44 years old. Yet there is no special housing for young inmates with serious health conditions.

Even former assistant attorney general Attorney Gen. Assistant Laurie Robinson said “there is often no way to set up an effective quarantine” because prisoners are assigned to small cells.

Judges have also joined the protest of unconstitutional prison living conditions of inmates in Minnesota prisons. District Judge Leslie Beiers wrote in a ruling last spring that “the government is obliged to provide medical care for those who are incarcerated is elementary,” then added that Minnesota’s Department of Corrections “has not met its duty.”  

We need prison reform. If we let the government refuse people their constitutional rights in prison, how long before they refuse people’s constitutional rights outside of prison?

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.

David Azreal is the pen name for a writer whose pieces are submitted through the American Prison Writing Archive, a partner of the Prison Journalism Project. David is incarcerated in Minnesota.