Covid-19: The New Criminal Justice Reform

A month before Ahmaud Arbery was chased down and shot under the guise of concerned citizenship, and George Floyd died under a cop’s knee after eight minutes of immense pressure, there wasn’t an enormous amount of empathy for those incarcerated in jails and prisons during the pandemic.

However, there is now an opportunity for a prison population composed of mostly black and brown men (59%) and women (43%) to be recognized as humans, who are in extreme danger of contracting coronavirus. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections has yet to figure out how to issue the proper PPE to the individuals in their care, on top of how to institute the proper social distancing measures in such close quarters.

Fortunately, there are change makers in the community such as Molly Collins (Deputy Director ACLU WI) who have been working tirelessly, to protect one of the most vulnerable populations from a virus that has claimed thousands of lives and sickened thousands more.

Molly is adamant about the DOC officials in this state listening to public health experts’ advice to immediately release individuals in detention who are at high risk of severe illness or death. She fears that if they continue to ignore evidence that their presence is conducive to an outbreak, the state’s health care capacity would stretch too far and further endanger public health.

Molly, expressed extreme concern over the threat of prison populations in rural areas because those hospitals have a limited number of beds.

The ACLU has been working with many levels of government with the goal of restructuring the way policing, prosecution and pretrial hearings, sentencing, confinement, and release is conducted during this national health crisis.

“We need all of these system actors to do more, because we have seen an outbreak in the House of Corrections in Milwaukee, and we know it could be worse because congregate settings like prisons and jails don’t allow for social distancing or effective ways to prevent the spread of the disease,” My source, a Capt. and and a twenty-one year employee did express concern about the health and safety of his staff.

He wanted the public to be aware that prisoners were being transported to his facility in Franklin, WI, from the Milwaukee County Jail, and the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility without any testing being done. He was adamant about this being the reason for the outbreak.

Since then they have taken many precautions such as:instituting rules that make it mandatory for all staff to wear face masks and gloves, or risk being escorted from the premises. They have also cleared out two entire dormitories to quarantine any individuals who test positive for Covid-19.

He stressed the need for more testing at the two other facilities prior to transport to the HOC. When asked if he and the HOC were willing to work with organizations like the ACLU to ensure the safety of the population under their care, he simply responded, “Absolutely. The healthier my staff and colleagues and the people being housed here are, the better my odds are of not carrying the virus home to my wife and son.”