“Supporters of the Decarcerate Minnesota Coalition will gather Thursday, July 2, 2:00-5:00pm in the parking lot of the Department of Corrections at 1450 Energy Park Drive in St. Paul, MN to ask DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell to meet their demands for releasing a large number of Minnesota prisoners impacted by COVID-19. The timing of the rally before Independence Day is targeted to condemn the criminal justice system’s violation of U.S. ideals of liberty and justice.” [Press release of protest on Google docs]
I won’t be there—can’t go to any pubic gatherings at this time. But I hope that many people go, and I hope that more people think hard about what is happening in and what is wrong with our prisons, here in Minnesota and across the country. Recent headlines on COVID-19 in prisons highlight this crisis:
- Punishment by Pandemic
- A Woman Died of COVID-19 in a New Jersey Prison After Begging to be Let Out of a Locked Shower
- The prison was built to hold 1,500 inmates. It had over 2,000 coronavirus cases.
- Coronavirus Cases Rise Sharply in Prisons, Even as They Plateau Nationwide
- Bill Barr Promised to Release Prisoners Threatened by Coronavirus—Even as the Feds Secretly Made It Harder for Them to Get Out
- More Than 70% of Inmates at One Prison Had COVID-19, and Advocates Fear Coronavirus is Spreading Silently
The Marshall Project reports that, “By June 23, at least 48,764 people in prison had tested positive for the illness, a 5 percent increase from the week before.”
Here in Minnesota, the prison in Faribault has the latest outbreak of COVID-19, with two deaths and 206 reported infections by June 30, a rapid increase from the first reported case on June 3. “First reported case” doesn’t mean the first COVID-19 case in Faribault, for two reasons.
First, because Minnesota prisons lock infected inmates in segregation (formerly known as solitary confinement), many/most inmates with symptoms tough it out without reporting themselves sick.
Second, reporting by the Minnesota Department of Corrections (MN DOC) is stupidly inaccurate. On June 26, 2020, MN DOC statistics show 4892 inmates tested at Faribault. Faribault has only 1718 adult offenders onsite, per DOC records. That’s not the only identifiable inaccuracy in MN DOC reports, only one of the most egregious.
So, yeah—MN DOC’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis fails. But that’s no surprise. The entire criminal (in)justice system, the entire carceral system in Minnesota and across the country fails, big-time and at enormous human and financial cost. A few more facts:
- The United States locks up more people per capita than any other country in the world: 698 per 100,000 people by one account, and 737 per 100,000 by another.
- There are 2.2 million people in the nation’s prisons and jails—a 500% increase over the last 40 years.
- The United States has more people in prison—by far—than any other country in the world.
This huge increase in prison population is not related to crime. From The Sentencing Project:
“Since the official beginning of the War on Drugs in the 1980s, the number of people incarcerated for drug offenses in the U.S. skyrocketed from 40,900 in 1980 to 452,964 in 2017. Today, there are more people behind bars for a drug offense than the number of people who were in prison or jail for any crime in 1980. The number of people sentenced to prison for property and violent crimes has also increased even during periods when crime rates have declined.”
I have a lot more to say about prisons, but that’s enough for today.
If you can get out to the protest today, that’s great. If, like me, you can’t—educate yourself about prisons. Educate someone else—your sister, your uncle, your friend, your legislator, your entire social media crowd. And start pushing to decarcerate Minnesota.