The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the inequities impacting marginalized communities where minorities are dying and infected at higher rates than other groups. From overcrowding in prisons to more exposure, minority communities are more vulnerable to COVID-19. At times like this, it is important to address root issues like poverty and healthcare.

Failed COVID-19 Response In Prisons

People have been demanding prisons to release people whose sentences are almost over, who were imprisoned for nonviolent crimes, or are vulnerable to infection. Overcrowded prisons, like ones in Ohio, are struggling to contain COVID-19 because social distancing is impossible. According to The Marshall Project, “at least 25,239 people in prison had tested positive for the illness.” The majority of the prison population consists of poor people or people of color, and many have to deal with COVID-19 without proper medical attention. The current pandemic highlights the systemic failures that disproportionately harm minority communities.

Minority Communities Disproportionately Impacted By COVID-19

Disparities in response to COVID-19 are not only seen in prisons, but throughout the U.S as well. According to the CDC, “33% of hospitalized patients were black compared to 18% in the community and 8% were Hispanic, compared to 14% in the community.” There are multiple factors that contribute to this disparity. Minority communities are more likely to be a part of the essential workforce and have less flexibility to work remotely, which would increase the chances of exposure. Not only are they more at risk of exposure, but there are also higher chances of spreading the virus to family members. Families who live in small apartments do not have the privilege to quarantine and socially distance themselves from others. Furthermore, language barriers can prevent certain populations from receiving accurate and important information regarding the virus. Undocumented immigrants are also impacted because they may be afraid of seeking medical care or resources due to fears of deportation. These factors can be explained by past events and legislation such as redlining and discrimination of the New Deal (a series of social programs and reforms in response to the Great Depression), which led to neighborhoods of poverty and unhealthy environments. Poor environments and policies contribute to mass incarceration and disproportionately higher deaths of minorities compared to other groups.

What Is Prison Abolition?

Prison abolition is a movement that calls for deep structural reforms on how crimes are handled. It is composed of three pillars. The first is moratorium, which is to stop the expansion of prisons. The second is decarceration, which is to release people because many people in prison do not pose a threat to the public. The third pillar is excarceration, which addresses the root causes and issues that can lead to incarceration.

Connecting Prison Abolition Principles To The Inequities

Especially in times of a pandemic, decarceration is important to ensure social distancing is possible in prisons. It is inhumane to hold someone in when they only have a few years left of their sentencing, just for the sake of completing their sentence. Furthermore, prison abolition includes transformative justice, which focuses on issues like unemployment and homelessness that can lead to incarceration. There should be less funding put into the expansion of prisons, but into programs and organizations that address issues of poverty and education. When root issues are focused on, I believe that real change can occur.