Analysis

Texas prisons negligent in COVID-19 spread

The state of Texas is ringing in the new year with COVID-19 spiraling out of control. The state has seen almost 2 million cases out of a population of 29 million, with cases certain to grow dramatically in the weeks following the holidays. 

Rather than provide economic assistance to support people while in quarantine as needed to effectively stop the spread, government authorities have taken passive, counter-productive, and even hostile actions toward the most vulnerable. In Texas prisons, the class nature of COVID-19 spread is being exposed as infection rates surge.

The injustice system acquires a deadly new weapon

Texas has the 7th highest incarceration rate in the United States, which has the highest incarceration rate in the world. A quarter million people, or almost 1 percent of the state’s population (0.891%), is behind bars at any given time. The disproportionate number of people in prison makes the issue of COVID-19 protection for captive populations a vital community issue, especially as infection rates inside Texas prisons skyrocket.

The quarantine has been particularly cruel on imprisoned children. Texas has used the pandemic as an excuse to suspend independent monitors for juvenile prisons and local jails. Independent monitors are often the last line of defense for reporting cases of abuse and cruelty by prison authorities.

Many children are being held in isolation cells for 23 hours a day, with their only outside contact being with their guards. These “solitary confinement” conditions are legally classified as torture by international human rights law.


‘Freedom to die’ on the outside, cruel isolation on the inside

While Texas state officials fight mandatory quarantine and social distancing orders outside of prisons, inmates are subjected to dehumanizing, ineffective isolation as their families struggle to maintain contact.

The measures taken to isolate prisoners are allegedly to “quarantine” against COVID-19, but conditions and policies within prison make it impossible to protect imprisoned people. Once inside the walls, COVID-19 spreads largely uncontrolled, often brought in by guards.

Texas prisons have seen over 27,000 COVID-19 cases, almost 11 percent of the total Texas incarcerated population. This compares with a 5.8 percent infection rate of the state’s general population, making prisoners twice as likely to be infected as non-incarcerated Texans. COVID-19 related deaths have also been uniquely high in prisons. Prisoners in Texas have a 35 percent higher chance of dying of COVID-19 compared to the national average.

190 prisoners have died in Texas since the beginning of the pandemic. Out of these 190 people, 58 percent were eligible for parole, 73 percent did not have a life sentence, and not a single person was sentenced by judge or jury to “death by COVID-19.”

These deaths are not unavoidable acts of nature. They are de facto death sentences, doled out by the capitalist state through willful negligence. 

End mass incarceration and save lives!

The reality of the U.S. “justice” system is that it is designed to punish and exploit those caught in its wheels. Rather than focus on rehabilitation, the police, courts, and prison systems ensnare working-class and oppressed communities in a never-ending cycle of imprisonment. The effect is to devastate poor, Black and Latino communities as the “justice” system enforces white supremacist, capitalist laws and double standards.

Instead of relaxing its approach, as the state government has done for labor laws and basic worker protections, Texas has used the pandemic to exacerbate inequality and cruelty against its captive population. Those who have contracted COVID-19 within prison are victims of extrajudicial punishment, and in the worst cases extrajudicial execution, as the result of state and federal negligence. Federal and state governments must release those behind bars in effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. We must continue the struggle against the cruel, corrupt prison system and the depraved political and economic systems that propagate it!

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