Governor Polis’s cavalier attitude to the well-being of incarcerated people appears to be shared by some in the criminal justice system. Mercado and Taylor, along with prison watchdog organizations, describe “quarantine” practices in prisons and prisons as arbitrary and ineffective. “From the very beginning, the way epidemics were handled has been nothing short of disastrous,” says Ken Hartman, advocacy director for the Transformative In-Prison Workgroup, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting rehabilitation programs and therapies for prisoners. “The strategy was, ‘We have an epidemic at Prison X, so let’s move some people to Prison Y.’” (According to all health experts WIRED spoke to, this is a mistake. bafflingly counterproductive.) Mercado reports that at the Central California Women’s Facility, people who tested positive were still allowed to enter shared cells to retrieve their belongings, and quarantine measures were inconsistent. Sometimes only the person who tested positive was isolated, and other times all cell mates would be scattered around different parts of the facility. “They were making it up as they went along,” Taylor says of the rules at the California State Prison in Lancaster.
While some confusion is understandable in such an unprecedented and rapidly changing situation, reports from former inmates describe correctional staff as less overwhelmed than deliberately defying Covid-19 guidelines. Across the country, in state and federal institutions, from minimum security prisons to execution chambers, staff members did not wear masks and caused outbreaks. “Part of the problem is that the guards inside are frankly Trump people,” Hartman said. “Not all of the wardens, but the reality is that many of them are likely to downplay the dangers of Covid.”
Regardless of the political beliefs of the staff, the individuals would have behaved in a way that demonstrated that they were aware of the safety precautions of Covid-19, but still violated them. “There was a team from Sacramento that came and checked [that everyone was] social distancing, and every time they walked in, the staff would make an announcement, “If you don’t wear your mask and your social distancing, I’ll write to you,” Mercado says. “But then they would come and say, ‘I don’t care if you wear your mask or not. I don’t care if you die. ”
A spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation declined to comment, saying its policy is not to comment on allegations that were not noted in an official report.
Defenders say the result of inconsistent and poorly planned management of Covid-19 is the erosion of the little trust that existed between incarcerated people and facility staff. “When I talk to people who are still inside, what I get is a lot of outrage,” Taylor says. “And I agree.” Mercado’s experience was much the same and she also said she witnessed rising levels of violence as frustrations mounted. “I have personally been frustrated with the statements from the staff because they annoy people,” she says. “They move people. People are showing symptoms and staff are refusing medical help. It is very stressful. So people started to get angry and smash windows because the staff wasn’t helping them. They are far from alone. The incarcerated people protested and even rioted over their Covid-19 conditions everywhere, from Kansas at Oregon at Venezuela at Sri Lanka.
It would be horrible any day, but these conditions are especially unnecessary when trying to convince people to let the facility’s medical staff vaccinate them. “The vaccine cannot be compulsory. You can’t pin someone and prick them with a needle, ”says Corene Kendrick, deputy director of the ACLU National Penitentiary Project. The reason for this is not only that it would violate the rights of those incarcerated to a shade of bodily autonomy, but also that it would reflect the shameful history of the United States. medical experimentation on incarcerated people, especially incarcerated people of color. “The detainees are predominantly people of color, and blacks have very legitimate reasons for not trusting the medical system. There was already a feeling of mistrust, and the bad decisions that were made did not help [facility staff’s] cause, ”says Hartman. “It caused resistance to the vaccines.”