As COVID-19 continues to grip our nation, we need to move urgently to protect those families who have long been ignored — more than 2.3 million people caught in the web of mass incarceration and detention — as they face one of the pandemic’s greatest threats. Support for our incarcerated family members has been negligible during this pandemic, even as COVID-19 spread like wildfire in prisons, jails and detention centers. People who are incarcerated are forced to live in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions without access to decent medical care and personal hygiene products.
We need to do a lot more and do it now. Funders should immediately call for the widespread release of prisoners and detainees, while investing in grassroots groups organizing and advocating for support for those who will be released. Marguerite Casey Foundation led the way last month by awarding $600,000 to Color of Change and Mijente, two leading racial justice organizations. Together with more than 70 local and national partners, these two organizations are working with impacted communities and millions of supporters to demand action and hold institutions and elected officials accountable for making sure all our family members are protected during this pandemic.
Color of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization, amplifies people’s power to introduce accountability to systems and decisions that impact Black people’s lives. They work locally and nationally to address the harm of the U.S. criminal justice system on Black communities through national strategies coordinated with local grassroots leadership and with emerging media and technologies that channel and scale up participation in strategic action. Mijente, a digital and grassroots hub for Latinx and Chicanx movement building, challenges systems of immigrant criminalization and detention. Mijente is already working for widespread changes in criminal prosecution of migrants and calling for an intersectional analysis to guide local and federal responses to the pandemic.
This pandemic, like mass incarceration and overt criminalization, is disproportionately hitting Black and Latinx communities. Structural racism drives the overincarceration of Black and Brown people, and the disproportionate burden of chronic disease and poor health outcomes in their communities is mirrored among those who are incarcerated and detained. Black people are only 13.4 percent of the U.S. population, yet 37.6 percent of the federal prison system. Latinx residents are only 18.3 percent of the population, but 31.8 percent of the federal prison system, federal data shows.
This support goes beyond protecting our incarcerated family members from the coronavirus. It’s about the need to free them with dignity and support their re-entry. We must ensure they have access to housing, health care and the necessary support to live lives of dignity. This is part of a commitment to transform the nation’s approach to justice and safety. People incarcerated in jails, prisons and detention centers are members of our family. Decarceration has always been necessary. Today, it is more urgent than ever.
For more information: https://humaneoutbreakresponse.org.