Impact of COVID-19 and Racism on Incarcerated People
It’s no overstatement to say that this has been an extremely troubling, extremely painful time for us as a society. We have seen over the past few months an array of struggles and injustices, much of which has been brought to light by social media. However, those in prison, while struggling through their own unique challenges during this time, have not had the chance to voice their own experiences in the way that many of the rest of us have.
As an organization dedicated to supporting equality and human dignity, we by no means feel qualified to speak to the individual experiences of each person who is dealing with incarceration on top of all of the other struggles 2020 has brought along with it, but we would like to bring attention to some of the main concerns affecting incarcerated populations. As we have seen recently, exposing the truth and being willing to consider the perspectives of others is an important step in rectifying injustice.
Over the past few months, this pandemic has highlighted an enormous amount of inadequacies across the country. Our prison system is no stranger to being inadequate. By May 27, at least 34,584 people in prison had tested positive for the illness, an 18 percent increase from the week before. And this is just among those who were tested and reported. Of those near 35,000, 455 individuals have subsequently died from COVID-related causes. America is unique in its level of incarceration per capita. This also means that, unlike other heavily impacted countries, America has an increased population of individuals living in close contact with little to no resources to prevent the spread of illness. Some individuals have been released from prison during this time — a clear acknowledgment of by our judicial powers of the heightened risks associated with prison environments — but these release decisions touted by the mainstream media as huge wins have, in the grand scheme of things, been exceedingly minimal, especially compared with other countries.
Black Lives Matter
In addition to the pandemic, police brutality across the nation remains. The murder of George Floyd and so many others brought to light in the past few weeks have emphasized not only the prejudice in our criminal justice system that inherently affects people of color and their treatment by the law, but also the dehumanization that those suspected of committing a crime can and often do find themselves victim to. On top of it all, police departments have been doubling down as protesters are brutalized, assaulted and arrested and curfews are put in order. As a result of these arrests, tensions in jails and prisons will mount at a time where incarcerated people are at their most vulnerable. Racial tensions and segregation are all too common within prison walls, and it is unclear how prisons will be able to manage these mounting tensions in the coming weeks. This is bigger than anything the country has seen in decades, and until justice is served and institutional racism is addressed from the top down, the lives and futures of the very populations we serve are at great risk.
New Vision's Role
New Vision is small, and the problem is big. Nothing will change overnight for the people we aim to serve, but our voice is important because, for the most part, they do not have one. We are privileged at New Vision in that we are able to work directly on tackling these big questions and inequalities. At the same time, we are also working in service of individual lives, because whilst there is a problem at large, there are 2.3 million incarcerated individuals, each with a unique story and an important voice, who need help. We are working diligently yet fervently to identify opportunities to amplify those voices that need to be heard, and we are listening and strategizing ways to better address these systemic issues in the work we do every day. We ask above all that, when you educate yourselves around issues of injustice, you make time to seek out the stories of those who are and have been incarcerated as well. There are many great programs that do the work of amplifying the voice of those who have experienced incarceration and particularly institutionalized racism at the hand of law enforcement firsthand, and each of their stories is valuable. In the coming weeks, we will be working to collect more resources to help with both education and advocacy, and we look forward to sharing those with you all soon.
Above all, we want to reiterate that we are committed to maintaining our core values, most notable of which are advocacy, diversity, and respect and dignity offered to all people, without exception. We know that we as a society and as individuals must do better. Now more than ever is the time to live these values and to use our abilities to validate, uplift and seek justice for incarcerated populations. We at New Vision are proud to be dedicated to this critical work, and we will continue to share more in the coming weeks to spread awareness and identify ways we can all work together to effect change.
— Daniel Sadler, President