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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 3/10/20

Prisons Worldwide Face Coronavirus Crisis: Overcrowding, Lack of Sanitation & Labor at Slave Wages

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As Italy went on lockdown, nearly 30 prisons across the country broke into riots Sunday and Monday after visitation rights were suspended in response to the outbreak. In a prison in southern Italy, a riot left at least six incarcerated people dead and caused 50 people to escape. Prisoners have reportedly lit fires, charged guards and even escaped at multiple facilities. This comes as the United Nations confirmed that coronavirus had reached Iran's prisons, as the number of cases there continues to soar. Iran has temporarily freed some 70,000 prisoners in response to the coronavirus. And concerns are growing about the health of the at least 1 million Uyghur Muslims jailed in prison camps in western China, where at least 13 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the region of Xinjiang.

In the U.S., New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing backlash after announcing Monday that New York state would respond to the growing coronavirus outbreak here by producing its own hand sanitizer made by prisoners for less than a dollar an hour. Not only will prisoners be making the 75% alcohol hand sanitizer for an average of 65 cents an hour, it's unclear if they will even be allowed to use it to protect themselves from infection. Items with alcohol are typically considered prisoner contraband. From Houston, we speak to Keri Blakinger, a reporter with The Marshall Project.

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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman with Juan Gonza'lez on this Super Tuesday Two, where people are voting in six states across the country for who could be the next president of the United States.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to look at how coronavirus is affecting the world's prisons. As Italy went on lock-down, nearly 30 prisons across the country broke into riots Sunday and Monday after visitation rights were suspended in response to the outbreak. In a prison in Southern Italy, a riot left at least six incarcerated people dead and caused 50 people to escape. Italy's prisons are notoriously overcrowded and advocates are sounding the alarm that people inside have not been tested for the virus.

Meanwhile, Italy's death toll continues to rise with more than 9,000 reported cases and 463 deaths. This comes as the United Nations confirmed that coronavirus had reached Iran's prisons, as the number of cases there continues to soar. Iran has temporarily freed some 70,000 prisoners in response. On Monday, Iranian officials reported 595 new infections and 43 new deaths in just the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to at least 237.

AMY GOODMAN: And concerns are growing about the health of at least one million Uyghur Muslims jailed in prison camps in Western China, where at least 13 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the region of Xinjiang. Despite a public health crisis that has left at least 3,136 dead, China has refused to close its prison camps, where conditions are reportedly dire with rampant overcrowding, lack of sanitation. Writing for USA Today, one human rights advocate called the Uyghurs "sitting ducks for coronavirus," demanding they immediately be restored to their homes.

Back here in the United States, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing backlash after announcing Monday that New York state would respond to the growing coronavirus outbreak by producing its own hand sanitizer made by prisoners for less than a dollar an hour. Not only will prisoners be making the 75% alcohol hand sanitizer for an average of 65 cents an hour, it's unclear if they will even be allowed to use it to protect themselves from infection because of the level of alcohol. Items with alcohol are typically considered prisoner contraband.

Well, for more on these issues, we go to Houston, Texas, where we're joined by Marshall Project reporter Keri Blakinger. She is the publication's first formerly incarcerated reporter. Her latest piece is headlined When Purell is Contraband, How Do You Contain Coronavirus?. Well, why don't you answer that question for us, Keri? Give us a lay of the land. What is happening in the United States prisons? And then talk about other places as well.

KERI BLAKINGER: Hi. Thanks for having me. In U.S. prisons, there is a lot of problems with under-staffing, including both the guards and the medical staff. And even in the best case scenario, the medical care is not that great in prison. And then you add on top of that just basic disease prevention measures are either against the rules or simply impossible. And that ranges from it's usually contraband to have any sort of alcohol-based hand sanitizer but also it's not always possible to wash your hands regularly. Sometimes your water is out. Sometimes you're just in a situation where you don't have access to a sink for hours. Sometimes if you're on transport, you're literally chained to the person next to you. So it's really hard to do any sort of social distancing or to just stay clean.

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Democracy Now!  is a national, daily, independent, award-winning news program hosted by journalists Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez. Pioneering the largest public media collaboration in the U.S., Democracy Now! is broadcast on (more...)
 
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