The Intercept: FOR THE PAST several decades, rural America’s economic lifeline has been the construction and operation of prisons and immigrant detention centers, both public and for-profit. The 1980s saw the collapse of American manufacturing and a farm crisis that ripped through the countryside. Mass incarceration was well-timed to fill the gap, producing jobs where they were needed.
But those lifelines have transformed into vectors for coronavirus, putting rural communities at risk of outbreaks. For many Americans, the plight of prisoners produces little sympathy. But in a twist on JFK — “Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free” — those outside the prison walls are not immune from what goes on inside them. Those jobs that made the campuses so attractive to local communities are staffed by people who go in and out each day — and what they bring with them could make all the difference in communities where hospitals were already shutting down, a trend exacerbated by Covid-19.
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It’s next to impossible to social distance in jails and prisons. “Correctional facilities are overcrowded, often badly,” explained Aaron Littman, a UCLA School of Law professor who focuses on jail conditions. “It’s important to remember that when we say overcrowded, we mean dozens of people sleeping inches within each other’s faces. They’re using the same toilets. Most don’t have access to liquid hand soap. In short, they are ideal sites for incubating respiratory viruses.” read more…
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