NEW YORK (AP) – Rapper and activist Common has been quarantined with concern for incarcerated people he met during visits to prisons, prisons and juvenile detention centers in the U.S. who are unable to maintain social distance or adopt strict hygiene routines to prevent spread of COVID-19.
"It is a worrying time for them," said Common, "because it is people who are often neglected."
On Wednesday, its criminal justice reform organization, Imagine Justice, launched a campaign with dozens of groups of activists and activists, calling attention to the threat that the coronavirus pandemic poses to millions of men, women and young people jailed in USA.
The campaign, dubbed #WeMatterToo, is asking authorities to immediately release people who have served the vast majority of their sentences, especially if they have underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19. Although state and local correctional institutions have already released thousands of people from confinement due to the pandemic, campaign supporters also want governments to pay for inmates' testing and accommodation after they are released.
Common said he also hopes to create greater public awareness of what happens inside the country's prisons and prisons and the impact that this has on society.
"We all have unanswered questions about the pandemic," said the Grammy and Oscar-winning rapper. "But being in prison adds new levels to this questioning, due to the way people were treated in prison."
A two-minute video as the campaign shows the voices of detainees who say that prison officials are not providing protective equipment or requiring social distance and do not have regular sanitized shower facilities. The video, shared with the Associated Press before the campaign was launched, does not identify prisoners or where they are held.
Outbreaks of COVID-19 in prisons and prisons across the country have raised alarm among advocates, who say the inadequate mitigation protocol threatens the lives of incarcerated people and prison officials. Last month, the US Bureau of Prisons released data that showed over 70% of people in federal custody tested for COVID-19 were positive.
The story continues
Likewise, terrible outbreaks have been reported in some state correctional systems.
In Common's hometown of Chicago, where Cook County Jail is one of the nation's largest jails, a federal judge last month ordered authorities ensure social distance among the 4,000 people in custody. As of Tuesday, 161 inmates and 81 prison officers were positive for COVID-19, according to the sheriff's department. Many more prisoners tested positive, but recovered. Seven inmates who tested positive died.
Ensuring the safety of prisoners during the pandemic is a matter of humanity, not politics, said Sam Lewis, executive director of the California Anti-Recidivism Coalition, one of nearly 65 partner organizations in the #WeMatterToo campaign.
"People made mistakes that put them in jail," said Lewis, a former lifelong prisoner. “But that does not mean that they must die in those places. Accountability is not a death sentence. "
Before the pandemic, the Imagine Justice group from the Common organized regular face-to-face visits to correctional facilities. Since the pandemic, visitation has been interrupted or severely limited in many facilities.
"Some of the strongest people I have ever met are in prison," said Common. "I believe that we can get out of this bigger than we were before."
Aaron Morrison is a member of the Associated Press race and ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/aaronlmorrison.