In the wake of COVID-19 prisons across the United States have begun to release prisoners in an attempt to stop the spread. California released about 10,000 incarcerated individuals since the start of the pandemic with 3,500 released in April alone. Additionally, by the end of August, California estimates that it will release around 8,000 incarcerated individuals. However, with limited reentry programs in place and poor planning to protect currently incarcerated individuals, the entire prison and justice systems seem like they could be handling this better.
Andrea Smith, who is deaf and required an interpreter, has a husband, who asked not to be named. He is currently incarcerated with 15 months left on his sentence. She is just one of many that are worried about a loved one on the inside.
“I think that the system is improving by releasing the inmates if they’re doing it properly… some of these people who are released, some of these inmates, really don’t have a stable housing program or a place to go after they leave. So they end up just coming back to jail anyway,” said Andrea.
A potential solution would be to pass Senate Bill 369 which would establish the California Reentry Commission. This commission would establish a new health and safety agenda for those returning home from prison or jail among other things. Unfortunately, California has plenty of other problems on their plate at the moment and the fact that they just gave $104 million to the police department indicates that the state government has little interest in reentry programs or community programs in general. Even if Senate Bill 369 were to pass it could only work if the prisons were doing their part to keep inmates safe until they are released.
Ideally, this would mean the inmates are capable of following all the CDC guidelines including taking extra precautions for people that are considered high risk. Andrea’s husband has asthma which according to the CDC guidelines classifies him as high risk.
However, according to Andrea, the prison classified her husband as low risk but they still moved him to the medical center within the prison where other high risk inmates are being held. Many of these inmates are elderly or have health issues that would classify them as high risk. Unfortunately they don’t have any doctors on call. In fact, at one point Andrea’s husband told her that an inmate had to wait two days before they received medical attention.
One of the things people can do to help incarcerated individuals is to send them letters or books.
Colin Meinrath works with Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. They can exchange letters and pamphlets with incarcerated individuals and even get them in contact with people who can send them books. You can reach them at P.O. box 163126 Sacramento, CA. 95816.
“If California ever seriously wants to end its incarceration crisis we should have a robust public housing system… that is something that has been systematically sabotaged from the inside across the United States… not Republicans but, Democratic mayors and administrations put people in charge of public housing who are fundamentally against public housing,” said Colin Meinrath