Organizing Against Imprisonment in the Time of COVID

As the COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping fast through communities around the world, over 300 organizers began connecting digitally to discuss grassroots campaigns fighting for the people most vulnerable to COVID-19 related deaths—- prisoners. Critical Resistance, one of the organizations involved in NoNewSFJails Coalition, organized the webinar on Monday, March 30th, which featured nine organizers across the US (two of whom also represented two different organizations in NoNewSfJails Coalition) as they shared their campaigns fighting to get people free from jails and state prisons.

Illustration of the webinar by Elizabeth Hee

Kyle Niel, from CUAV, one anchor organization of NoNewSFJails Coalition, spoke on the digital panel about our fight to shut down San Francisco County Jail 4 at 850 Bryant, what COVID-19 means for people locked up in San Francisco’s jails, and how NoNewSFJails Coalition is responding to the crisis. Amber Akemi Piatt from Human Impact Partners, a member of NoNewSFJails coalition that is also working with people locked up in Santa Rita jail and the Audit Sheriff Ahern campaign, explained the conditions of jail and how health inside is non-existent, as she played an audio recording of a man imprisoned at Santa Rita right now, saying: “They’re not doing nothing, man, to try keep anybody healthy. If something breaks out in this jail, there’s going to be a whole lot of people that die because they’re ill-equipped to even try to handle something of this magnitude.”

Laura Whitehorn, a former prisoner and another panelist representing Release Aging People in Prisons (RAPP) in New York which is now the epicenter of the COVID-19 epidemic in the US, urges:

“One of the things that we’re trying to emphasize is that public health criteria should be used [right now]. Not ‘criminal justice’ criteria to decide when people are getting out. […] We have so many public health experts saying, and I think this is our overall message,–there is no way that jails and prisons can protect people, treat people, keep people alive, keep people from acquiring this virus. It’s the opposite. [Jails and prisons] are a wildfire, a petri dish for viruses like this. [….] We need to fight like hell […]. In a moment like this where there is tremendous disaster, either the ruling class, the police, they all get stronger and stronger, and the corporations, or there’s room for, dare I say, revolutionary justice to be talked about. So release them all.”

A number of resources were also shared during the panel and from members of the audience in the webinar’s chat. Resources for anti-prison organizing in the time of COVID-19 can be found on Critical Resistance’s website here.

You can watch the entire webinar right below. Discussion of our fight to #ShutDown850 begins at 24:22: