In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the flea-spread typhus was spread so heavily in prisons that it was called jail fever. It spread unavoidably between inmates because they were crowded in conditions that didn’t allow them to take care of their own hygiene. And while endemic typhus is no longer a jailhouse plague, inmates are still particularly vulnerable to crowd-spread disease.
The steps we’re all taking to keep one another safe – social distance, frequent hand-washing, sanitizer, and masks – aren’t available to inmates. As of the end of April, over 10,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in U.S. prisons and jails.
Reform Alliance, an organization launched in 2019 by rappers Meek Mill and Jay-Z, is an initiative dedicated towards prison reform, specifically aiming at challenging the for-profit prison model that many say results in over-sentencing. Their overall goal is to reduce the number of people subject to parole and probation law by one million before 2025, by changing laws and policies. But in the current crisis, more urgent goals have risen up.
“COVID-19 is ripping through our prison system and risking the lives of everyone inside,” says a pop-up when one visits Reform Alliance’s website, directing visitors to a petition they can sign with their Facebook information. The petition urges prison authorities to increase the safety of their facilities, including equipment, monitoring, and reporting.
Editorial credit: Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com