By Liam Manjon
This was originally published on Free the 350 Bail Fund’s blog and is reprinted here with permission from the author, who is an organizer with Free the 350 Bail Fund and also a member of DSA. To contribute directly to Free the 350 Bail Fund and help free individuals incarcerated at the Dane County Jail visit Free the 350 Bail Fund’s website.
A public health crisis that was entirely avoidable had elected officials, judges and state department of corrections officials acted proactively to stop the spread of the deadly Covid-19 virus is now underway. After weeks of inaction by the sheriff, there are now myriad folks testing positive for the virus inside the Dane County jail. On Tuesday April 21 it was announced that 16 out of 22 people FROM A SINGLE pod have tested positive for COVID-19 and as a result the Dane County Sheriff has arranged for the National Guard to come into the jail and test everybody.
In the meantime, there are people who continue to exit and enter the jail, spreading the coronavirus to the broader community, which will result in the deaths of people in our neighborhoods due to the negligence of elected officials, judges, and state Department of Corrections officials. While increased testing being called for by the Sheriff in the jail is of course needed in order to be able to form cogent public policy to curb the spread of the deadly virus, the need to release people from the jails is imminent and pressing and should not be held off another day. COVID-19 could claim the lives of approximately 100,000 more people across the U.S. than current projections stipulate if jail populations are not dramatically and immediately reduced, according to a new epidemiological model released on April 26 by the ACLU and academic research partners. “The revolving doors of jails make them a tinderbox for COVID-19 spread within our communities.”
The lives of people in the community are at risk, yet elected officials, judges and Department of Corrections officials continue to drag their feet on what is a no-brainer of a solution – releasing people from the closed quarters of the jail, where social distancing is impossible. And indeed, elected officials, judges and Department of Corrections officials DO have the authority to release people from the jail. The Sheriff can place people on electronic monitoring, the Department of Corrections can release people’s probation/parole holds, the judges can change bails to signature bonds, the District Attorney can drop charges against people, the Dane County Board of Supervisors can reduce the operating budget of the jail, and Governor Evers has the power to commute the sentences of incarcerated people.
Folks who are incarcerated are essentially being served a death sentence by leaving them exposed to the virus without the ability to practice life saving social distancing measures and without being provided with sufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Although the death rate from the virus among the general population is extremely high, due to baked in racism in the systems of our white supremacist patriarchal capitalist society, it is EVEN HIGHER for Black, Indigenous and People of Color, which Dane County consistently, disproportionately, locks up in the Dane County jail. Therefore, it is a life and death proposition when considering whether or not to free people from the jail.
We have heard that one of the methods that the Sheriff has been utilizing to deal with the virus spreading in the jail is to lock people up in solitary confinement in an attempt to socially isolate them from the rest of the population. Solitary confinement is a form of torture and is considered a human rights abuse by the UN and other international bodies and is an unethical and ineffective tactic to employ during a pandemic.
Keeping people in close quarter cages during a pandemic is a cruel and unusual punishment, which is protected against in the eighth amendment of the constitution, which the elected officials are apparently ignoring.
More than 100 people have died across the countries in the jails and prisons so far, and the number is sure to rise should there continue to be no action taken.
The evidence is compelling and undeniable that we must free them all or be responsible for untold deaths. To put the icing on the cake, there is no proof that incarcerating people ACTUALLY reduces crime or violence in society, in fact there is evidence to the contrary, incarcerating people in jails and prisons increases crime and violence so the argument for keeping them in there is non existent.
Additionally, there is much precedent for freeing people. So far many countries including, Iran, Turkey, Ethiopia, Indonesia, India, Morocco and the UK have freed hundreds of thousands of people from their jails and prisons, recognizing the public health crisis that it poses. California, Washington and Ohio have, or are moving toward, freeing thousands, too, and many cities across the country have also moved to free people. So tell Sheriff David Mahoney, District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, the judges, the Dane County board of supervisors, the department of corrections and Governor Tony Evers to Free Them All NOW, before their inaction results in untold deaths of our loved ones and community members.