• Jackie Vanegas

Profiting Off the Misery of Others: The Corruption of Prisons in America

Image courtesy of FiveThirtyEight

What does it mean when family and friends are everything? Is it the enjoyable times you have spent with them? The bickering? The unbreakable bond and love that you have for one another? Whatever it is, I think you’ll agree that we all want the best for our loved ones.

But what if we have no control of that?

What if you, or your brother or your fiancé were found at the wrong place and wrong time. What if they were taken from you, and locked away in a cell with brick walls. What if barbed wire fences were keeping you away from the people you love the most.

Imagine knowing there’s an institution that profits off keeping your loved one locked away, seeing them not as a person, but as a way to make money.

Then imagine that the only way you can contact them is either by phone (with a time limit), or in a room (with no privacy) being watched by correctional officers vigilant of you and your loved one’s every move.

Now imagine the current state of the world now. Amidst the pandemic, a surge of health precautions are being taken almost everywhere.

Almost everywhere.

The exception is prisons, and right now in America they are hotbeds and amplifiers of infectious diseases. By their very nature, prisons are already some of the most difficult places to practicing social distancing, adequate hygiene precautions, and prevent constant interaction-and that raises the risk of the spread of the COVID-19.

Lewis Clark, an incarcerated man in a Chicago prison described the lack of medical attention he received after being diagnosed with COVID-19. According to the WQAD interview, after being moved to a quarantined area, he said the showers were “ice cold and all the inmates with COVID-19 are subject to use the same toilet and showers” as well as the floor being “flooded with feces and urine".

If feces and urine are the norm, then it seems like someone forgot that our loved ones locked behind bars are not just prisoners, or inmates, or even a statistic.

They are people.

All of them have family, significant others, or are parents just like us. And it is not only them who are worried about their own health and safety but those waiting for their safe return as well.

In Ohio, an inmate's family members have described a lack of health precautions taken within these institutions: “They tell them that they’re mandatory to wear face masks, but they give them one face mask and they have to use it for an extended period of time, and then other people are stealing their face masks,”

Does this sound to you like adequate precautions? Every single one of these stories has the same theme: injustice.

While the Federal Bureau of Prisons, states that there are 1603 federal inmates and 194 staff who have confirmed positive test results for COVID-19 nationwide and 59 federal inmate deaths, The Marshall Project believes that the Federal Bureau of Prisons is not being honest about how many people are being tested or the precautions being made to help those possibly exposed to the virus.

As concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 rise, it is natural to need to check up on your family members and loved ones.

But think about not even being able to get a hold of the person you care about the most.

The Santa Maria Times outlines an inmate and his family’s account of the lack of care and communication on behalf of the Lompoc Prison in California. Yonnedil Carror Torres is an inmate within the institution and became infected during the pandemic. According to the article, his sister alleged in a statement she was notified by a cellmate, who wrote in a letter that her brother went into acute respiratory failure and collapsed in his cell in late April, five days after asking guards for medical assistance.

It was days until she was able to get in direct contact with her brother.

It does not take much to acknowledge that there is an ongoing problem with our prison system. Especially private/contract prisons.

A 2016 report from the Justice Department detailed that the Bureau of Prisons needs to “improve the way it monitors contract prisons”. And even went as far as to report that the Bureau of Prisons cannot effectively ensure that inmates within private prisons can “receive appropriate health and correctional services.”

Even a federal executive department admitted to the fact that they can't even make certain that imprisoned people within private prisons can have their basic needs met.

Yet so many family members, friends, parents, and loved ones are still put into these corrupt hell-holes.

A hell-hole that does not see you as a person but as a way to make a profit.

A hell-hole that cannot be demonstrated to save money to taxpayers, and many times costs more than government operated prisons.

And most importantly, any institution which subjects people to poverty, pain, and unjust struggle should not exist in a moral or just society. But this isn’t about politics, it is about the love we have for those around us - for our loved ones, our neighbors, and even those we will never meet.

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