First COVID-19 Prison Death in U.S. Stirs Controversy
The Managing Director of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns at the Drug Policy Alliance, Kassandra Frederique, in response to the tragic death of Patrick Jones, the first COVID-19 prison death in the U.S. prison system, issued the following statement:
“We are out of time. The tragic death of Patrick Jones, a 49-year-old man serving a 27-year prison sentence for a drug offense, is the first of what we anticipate will be many preventable deaths to COVID-19.
While we are encouraged by the actions taken by some state officials to begin releasing people, it is not enough, and it simply isn’t being done at the volume and speed necessary to outrun the virus. As public health officials have continuously warned, we must dramatically reduce capacity in these facilities to slow the spread of the virus.
There are 450,000 people currently incarcerated for a drug related charge, and even if you released them all it would not be enough to flatten the curve in the criminal legal system. In Mr. Jones’ low-security facility alone, a total of 30 incarcerated individuals and staff have tested positive for COVID-19. There will be more Patrick Jones’ and DPA stands with our fellow criminal justice reform allies in calling for the release of people inside of jails, prisons, and detention centers. The inhumane conditions of our penal system puts lives at risk both while people are incarcerated and when they return to their communities—they are at heightened risk of contracting tuberculous, for instance, or overdosing after release. Mass criminalization in and of itself is a public health crisis. COVID-19 has simply magnified the injustices that have always been present, the seriousness and urgency of which demands immediate action.
More must be done. We are standing at the precipice of a systematic mass casualty event. Our system actors need to do everything they can to flatten the curve of mass criminalization so that we might come through this pandemic with as much of our collective humanity intact as possible.
The Drug Policy Alliance envisions a just society in which the use and regulation of drugs are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights, in which people are no longer punished for what they put into their own bodies but only for crimes committed against others, and in which the fears, prejudices and punitive prohibitions of today are no more. Our mission is to advance those policies and attitudes that best reduce the harms of both drug use and drug prohibition, and to promote the autonomy of individuals over their minds and bodies.