The Virus Will be Most Virulent to the Incarcerated

by The Editors

March 26, 2020

The two million prisoners in jail for crimes and the 38,000 undocumented immigrants detained in the US today are in grave danger of dying in large numbers from the Covid19 pandemic. Needless to say, the fact that the majority of those detained are black or Latin is a major factor in their lives being devalued by the rulers of capitalist America.

At Rikers Island, the New York City jail, there are over 5000 inmates, either awaiting trial or serving short sentences. There are already about 60 symptomatic inmates, and others are living in close quarters, sharing toilets for up to 30 people, without sanitation or protection with masks or gloves. Visitors are no longer allowed. Although hundreds may be released, 375 as of 3/26, thousands remain in great danger.

Rebecca Hensley, an anti-racist activist and instructor from Southern Louisiana University, writes about the conditions in Angola prison there:

 “I’m the emotional/psychological/financial lifeline into Angola right now. 6300 men. Let that sink in.

Louisiana DOC has 7000 geriatric prisoners. Let that sink in.

They are passing out NO…that’s ZERO…hand sanitizer or disinfectant cleaning supplies (even though the U.S. government has given them funding to do so). Word has it that it’s being SOLD (to the staff?) Let that sink in.

They have doubled up every cell. Let that sink in.

Most of the “doctors” at Angola have lost their licenses or been otherwise professionally compromised before coming to the LA DOC. Let that sink in.

Angola is quietly taking prisoner transfers from the area with the second most COVID-19 cases in the state, moving them into a unit that has been condemned, and refusing to answer any questions about it. Let that sink in.”

In New Jersey, prisoners at two immigrant detention centers are on hunger strike, as are two in the South, over dangerous conditions and at least one case of the virus. Nationally over 30 detainees are in isolation. There is little or no medical care in ICE facilities, and Andrea Flores, deputy director of policy in the Equality Division at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said health experts have warned that detainees are “sitting ducks for the spread of the virus.” Once outbreaks in centers begin, “they will spread rapidly,” she said. These inmates, including many children, have committed the crime of seeking a better life as they flee poverty and violence. The pandemic has caused thousands to be marooned in Mexico awaiting asylum hearings, living in dire conditions in a country that has yet to initiate any response to the pandemic. Trump now has used the disease as an excuse to immediately deport any new arrivals at the border.

All these stories illustrate the stark racism of the American capitalist system that, from the days of slavery, has treated black and brown bodies as workhorses to be used and discarded. The epidemic, which began in the US among better off and largely white world travelers, is quickly engulfing poorer and non-white communities, where its havoc will be disproportionately severe. Detainees of all stripes exist at the bottom of this ladder and will suffer the worst. But what we must remember is that the devaluation of life, the shortages, the cuts in health care, the rise in police power – tolerated because of racism – ultimately affect us all. This is a whole system that has to go – capitalism.


2 thoughts on “The Virus Will be Most Virulent to the Incarcerated”

  1. This post is informative and eloquent. The day cannot come too soon when this vampirish capitalist system comes to an end. And the situation of those incarcerated–whether in prisons, refugee camps, or urban slums–is the worst of all. I shudder to think of how things will look when COVID-19 fully makes its way to the poorest (and brownest/blackest) countries of the world, victims of imperialism over many years.


  2. It’s a great article. We in Philly have 4000 in city jails, 90% black, a great many in because they can’t pay bail and have been convicted of nothing, many others in for minor parole violations, may old and ill. Many of us are organizing for release of such prisoners.


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