Lately there has been much hand wringing and gnashing of teeth by politicians concerning the vulnerability of some of the more than 2 million prisoners that are incarcerated in our country’s 6,000 federal, state and local penitentiaries, prisons and/or jails. Because of the tight quarters to which the prisoners are confined, so the thinking goes, they cannot practice social distancing and therefore are at greater risk of being infected by, and thus transmitting the virus to, one another.
Moreover, because of the conditions that exist within the walls of our nation’s correctional facilities — sullied at best, abhorrent at worst — there seems to be additional concerns that incarcerated populations are still more susceptible to COVID-19 than are the rest of us.
In response to these humanitarian anxieties many of our country’s prominent politicians, ever eager to be seen as representatives of the unrepresented, have advocated for and in some cases achieved the unthinkable — releasing convicted criminals, some of which were high-risk sex offenders.
Never mind the implications of such a move on the honest, hard-working citizens and taxpayers. But things, as things will, are quickly falling apart where this practice has so far been employed — to the surprise of no one the recidivism rates have been quite high, over 50 cases in NYC alone.
Still, the fair but depressing takeaway from this is where have all these troubled voices of concern been? It is absurd and obscene in equal parts that anyone would use the COVID-19 pandemic to feign alarm for prisoners who have endured prolonged suffering and humiliation at the hands of both publicly and privately run prison systems, and where it has been demonstrated in both word and deed that a prisoner’s life is one to be lived without dignity.
It is widely know that the incarcerated are, and have always been, at greater risk of disease (hepatitis B, hepatitis C, staph, sexually transmitted, AIDS), and violence (manifold issues of gang related assault, theft, murder and forced sodomy), as well as rampant drug abuse and all manner of untreated mental health issues. Still, as repugnant as these conditions and atrocities are to health and welfare of those incarcerated, we’ve never, paradoxically, thought to release any of them as a result. The conditions these prisoners live in are not only to the detriment of any lofty notion of rehabilitation, but in many cases antithetic to all that is decent and humane.
Why at this late hour do politicians like Bill de Blasio et al. express alarm for the wellbeing of prisoners?
What is it about the COVID-19 pandemic that represents the tipping point by some for the general health and welfare of prisoners when by any measure this virus pales, utterly pales, in comparison to the general health and welfare catastrophes otherwise faced by prisoners each and every day they spend incarcerated?
As metaphors go, ‘train wreak’ turns out to be pretty apt when discussing our $80 billion per year prison system. Prisons have degenerated into contemptible asylums of sadistic violence that are controlled by gangs, ignored by politicians and neglected by those public and private organizations tasked with their management and oversight in total representing a wholesale debacle that fails to deliver to the taxpayer, and to those convicted, any semblance of an institution of reform.
Though I’m all for accountability and paying your dues, it is nonetheless fair to say that anyone incarcerated by a state or federal government deserves, at a minimum, a clean, safe and healthy environment in which to pay their debt to society. How else can we expect to reform? That any politician is sounding alarms about COVID-19 and its potential impact on our prisons but has thus far failed to act to affect change in these other areas is tantamount to swallowing an elephant and choking on a gnat — it’s absolute hypocrisy!
There can be little to no reform for our prisoners when they’re being brutalized and/or raped by the tyrannical gang regimes that too often control so many of our prisons. If our politicians were concerned, genuinely concerned, about the heath and welfare of those incarcerated in our nation’s prisons they’d deploy, en masse, the additional resources necessary to end the ubiquitous violence that is sadly so much a part of the everyday life of those who are simply trying to serve their time.