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  • Christian Shaughnessy

We need youth prisoner releases and vaccines now!

COVID-19 should not be a death sentence

The California juvenile justice system has failed to protect incarcerated people of all ages and families from COVID-19. Prisons are experiencing massive outbreaks of COVID-19 due to poor conditions and negligence of correctional officers. Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence showing that indoor settings with little to no physical distancing are a hotbed of COVID-19 transmission, prisons and jails have flagrantly let down the general public and our interest in not spreading COVID-19 as much as possible.

This is especially irksome given young people’s propensity to come into contact with large groups of people, whether at work or in the home. When incarcerated youth are released from detention and the custody of law enforcement who routinely flout COVID-19 protections, they are inadvertently given a high chance of spreading it to at risk family members, particularly the elderly. All the while science does not yet know if those who recovered from COVID-19 can still spread COVID-19 to others.

Thus, both scientific evidence and human compassion demonstrate that many fruitful policies can reduce this pernicious problem. Demographic groups who are already disproportionately harmed by the carceral state and law enforcement, such as Black and Brown youth can and should be given opportunities for high vaccine prioritization and early release. This can prevent an odious transmission of a disease that sweeps through our communities with great celerity.

This pandemic has already harmed people of color and the poor disproportionately compared to the rich and politically connected. Politicians and the wealthy receive the finest of care and cutting edge treatments while Black people especially bear the burden of fatality and poverty. With systemic racism in law enforcement and the prison system, this pattern is magnified to the detriment of the entire community by the health problems that already existed from incarceration before COVID-19.

No matter how one feels about the way a young person entered the system, no incarcerated person or their family deserves a death sentence by Coronavirus. We therefore call for an evidence based and compassionate release with high vaccine prioritization at the least. The community and our future depend on it.

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