The COVID-19 Pandemic and Prison Populations

By Noelle Hanrahan, published on Organizing Notes by Bruce Gagnon, March 20, 2020

Prisons are a breeding ground for these kinds of diseases and once it its it will spread like wildfire; we are anticipating a devastating infection rate.

Now is the time for Prison Abolition.  People are going to die if we do not decarcerate right now. That means prisoners and guards alike are affected.  Abolition has never been more necessary.

We are all connected.  Prison walls are an illusion, the create the false impression of separation.

Prisoners and guards are at much greater risk than the general population.

Our reaction to the pandemic must be equal to the danger.  It must also embody grace, dignity, and humanity.

Open the prison gates and bring people home.

We must:

  •     Immediately bring all medically fragile and prisoners over sixty home.
  •     Release everyone who has a release date in 2020 and 2021.
  •     Release all people in federal immigration detention.
  •     Expedite all parole eligible cases.
  •     Eliminate bail. Let every single pre-trial detainee go.
  •     Eliminate all unnecessary parole meetings.
  •     Eliminate parole revocations for technical violations.
  •     Lift all fees for calling family members.
  •     Eliminate medical co-pays in prison.
  •     Reduce the local and state prison population, by any and all, ordinary or extraordinary means.
  •     Ensure single cells and sufficient medical beds.
  •     Reduce admissions by eliminating biased police, prosecutorial, immigration and judicial practices.

Health care in prison is a human right.

There is no justifiable reason for exposing all of us, inside and outside, to a situation that will spread COVID-19 like wildfire.

The fall out of people not being able to go to work, not being able to afford medical care, or more likely being afraid to receive medical care due to the costs, is yet to be fully realized.

But amidst the chaos, the world could change overnight and be restructured for the better. This crisis is forcing government officials to come face to face with the problems of average Americans
– poor health insurance and unstable income.

This revolutionary force does not exempt our prison population. Experts have made it clear that it is not a question of whether COVID-19 will enter the prison, but when.  And with the prisons overcrowded and unsanitary, it will spread fast and nearly every prisoner and employee will be infected. Prison health care systems are not prepared to deal with this epidemic. People will die.  We must act now to prevent this catastrophe. Prisons are a breeding ground for these kinds of diseases and once it hits it will spread like wildfire; we are anticipating devastating infection rate. The poor sanitation, the lack of access to medical care, and the close proximity will exacerbate the problem. It puts not only the prisoners at risk, but the guards and other staff who work on the inside and subsequently their communities at home. A pandemic knows no prison walls.

So releasing people is the name of the game – we know that it’s possible. The ACLU has already called for prisons and detention centers to release high risk inmates, the elderly and the sick, and has applauded an Ohio county court for ordering the release of hundreds of prisoners. Anything possible right now with this pandemic.


Noelle Hanrahan,  is the founder and director of Prison Radio. Ms. Hanrahan is a licensed private investigator in Rhode Island. She specializes in recording, salvaging, transfer, noise reduction and enhancement of audio and all media formats, as well as conducting research and interviews for civil and criminal defense investigations.

Noelle Hanrahan
Prison radio

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