As the virus surges, so do calls to release prisoners

CityLab Daily

Prison pandemic: Covid-19 found its way into California's San Quentin prison in June despite the facility being on lockdown since March. As of July 21, there were 869 active cases at the 168-year-old prison, where more than 3,400 are incarcerated. An inmate inside tells CityLab's Sarah Holder how he can hear constant coughing from his cramped cell, how he displayed symptoms after sharing a shower with other inmates, and how he's refused to get tested because he fears further isolation if it comes back positive. He's been praying for his sentence to be commuted but doesn't expect to be one of the 8,000 prisoners Governor Gavin Newsom said could be eligible for expedited release by the end of August.

The scale of the outbreak in San Quentin and other prisons has reinvigorated calls to reduce America's incarcerated population, the largest in the world. In California alone, some 7,000 prisoners — more than 6% of the state's prison population — have tested positive for the disease. Prisoners nationally are 5.5 times more likely to contract Covid-19 and three times as likely to die from it. While decarceration presents its own challenges, advocates say it's too late to wait. Today on CityLab: The Imprisoner's Dilemma

-Alex Wittenberg

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