ACLU Marks the 1,000th COVID-19 Death in U.S. Prisons and Jails

August 26, 2020 11:45 am

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NEW YORK — According to the ACLU’s Death by Incarceration Database, the death toll from COVID-19 in prisons and jails around the country reached 1,000 people — including incarcerated people and prison and jail staff — today. At least another 100,000 incarcerated people have gotten sick with the virus.

The ACLU’s database is a compilation of data from the Bureau of Prisons, the Department of Corrections, and media coverage from around the country. Prisons and jails are notoriously opaque, particularly during this pandemic, so the true number is likely higher. The ACLU and its affiliates have filed more than 30 lawsuits against prisons and jails around the country to reduce populations and save lives during this pandemic.

Cynthia Roseberry, deputy director of policy at the ACLU’s Justice Division, issued the following statement:

“This tragic milestone is the culmination of a mass incarceration machine that has ballooned out of control and torn apart communities — disproportionately Black and Brown communities — for decades. This system has been used to exclude Black and Brown people from our country’s core institutions and processes, and it gave rise to a culture which tolerated neglect for the health and lives of incarcerated people, their families, and staff. It is now responsible for taking 1,000 lives recklessly and unnecessarily during a pandemic. In the midst of a nationwide reckoning on the impact of centuries of racial oppression, we must ask ourselves: What will it take to dismantle this inhumane, shameful, and deadly system?

“Mass incarceration has always been a public health crisis. But we also know that, as our country combats this pandemic, our prisons and jails act as vectors that also contribute to the spread of the virus amongst staff and the surrounding communities as well. The nation’s 10 largest clusters of COVID-19 are in jails and prisons. It is impossible to have a healthy society when we treat a major segment of our population so disgracefully.

“This tragic milestone serves as a reminder: Much of the public discourse has moved on from the people who are languishing in prisons and jails, terrified for their health and safety, and provided little to protect themselves. The Department of Justice, governors, judges, prosecutors, police, and other actors in the system still have the power to release people or prevent them from entering in the system in the first place. We will continue fighting and encourage them to do so.”

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