Mass Incarceration is a Threat to Public Health

estimony in support of Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa’s, bill HD.4963/H.4652
An Act Regarding Decarceration and COVID-19

Thank you for taking testimony in support of this critical bill during this terrible crisis.

My name is Caroline Bays, and I am testifying on behalf of Progressive Massachusetts as well as on behalf of those who are behind bars and do not have the ability to testify for themselves.

This has been a hard time for our state. We all have found this time difficult and sometimes even scary. Imagine if you had to live through this without any control of your surroundings. Imagine if you had to live with your ability to stay safe completely in the hands of others -- and imagine if those others are people who have previously shown no indication that they care about your welfare or well-being. This is a truly scary time for men and women in the prisons in Massachusetts.

In addition many in prison are more vulnerable to this disease. Those who are not fed appropriately or allowed appropriate exercise, are more likely than most to have comorbidities, a fact which increases the likelihood that they will die from this disease. Whatever reason they might be in prison for, nobody was sentenced to illness or death. When the state incarcerates someone, the state becomes responsible for ensuring their well-being.  Well, that is what the state needs to do. And that means releasing as many people as possible in order to ensure that these tragic deaths do not continue and spiral out of control.

Other states have released people from prison.  Iowa has released over 800 people and is still expediting releases. Hawaii has granted early release to almost 700 people. Even Louisiana is releasing people from prison early! (To see what other states are doing in both jails and prisons you can go here: https://www.prisonpolicy.org/virus/virusresponse.html)

Why haven’t we joined these states? Instead, the governor has remained silent while this insidious virus works its way through the prison system. We witnessed how fast this virus made its way through our community. We know that it silently plowed through our state, making us one of the worst affected in the country. There is a strong likelihood this will happen in our prisons. That is why we need to get people who will be vulnerable to this disease out, now. We don’t want to join Ohio in the catastrophe that is happening inside prisons there.

We pride ourselves on being a humane state. We pride ourselves on not having the death penalty. Well, now it’s time to act on our values and release these men and women from prison and allow them to endure this pandemic in a safe place. Because allowing them to stay in unsafe conditions when we can easily release them is the very definition of inhumanity.

As of this writing there have been 7 deaths in Massachusetts prisons, and last week alone we had 130 new cases, up from 37 the week before https://www.themarshallproject.org/2020/05/01/a-state-by-state-look-at-coronavirus-in-prisons. Please -- before it is too late -- release all those who we possibly can before tragedy strikes our prisons.

Sincerely,
Caroline Bays
Board President, Progressive Massachusetts 

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