PANDEMIC IN OUR PRISONS
By Yvonne Abraham
April 25, 2020
Think coronavirus in our prisons doesn’t affect everybody? Think again.
If we don’t get a handle soon on what’s happening in our prisons and jails during this pandemic, we’re looking at an epic disaster — and one that will reach well beyond their walls.
Though it’s unconscionable at this late stage, we are still flying mostly blind when it comes to the 14,000 or so men and women who sit in the state’s jails and prisons. Between April 5 and April 20, those facilities reported that only 548 inmates had been tested for the coronavirus, and that 214 of those had confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to a summary released Wednesday, under a court order that should never have been necessary to get this basic information; seven have died of the disease. A whopping 28 of the 200 women housed at MCI-Framingham had tested positive as of April 20, a rate higher than that at New York’s notorious Rikers Island. Bridgewater’s Massachusetts Treatment Center was another hotspot, with 41 infections among the 560 or so inmates. A couple of county jails had tested no inmates at all.
For a long time, leaders of both parties in this state have let their fear of releasing the wrong person govern their corrections policies. That fear now has life-or-death consequences for far more people.
“Everyone is afraid to be the ones to stick their necks out because of the population we’re talking about,” said Elizabeth Matos, head of Prisoners’ Legal Services.