First death reported at Rhode Island Correctional Facilities, Lieutenant Russell Freeman, a prison guard
Formerly incarcerated people, families of incarcerated people, and accomplices circled the Veterans Memorial Auditorium during Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo‘s weekly COVID-19 press conference on Friday. They were coming together in solidarity with those currently incarcerated in Rhode Island prisons and their loved ones facing the direct impact of the devastating, deadly, and completely preventable coronavirus outbreaks in corrections facilities throughout Rhode Island.
This action is the latest attempt in a nine month campaign to get the Raimondo Administration to take action at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) where a Covid outbreak is infecting hundreds of incarcerated residents. The action was organized by Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE)’s Behind the Walls Committee, a committee made up of formerly incarcerated people and the loved ones of incarcerated people; Black and Pink; Formerly Incarcerated Union; Never Again Action Rhode Island, and community members as part of the RI COVID Response: Decarcerate NOW campaign.
Organizers are demanding that immediate action be taken to:
- Halt arrests and grant personal recognizance to limit the number of people trapped in Intake.
- Reduce the prison population to control the spread of disease. Restore lost good time. Expedite parole hearings and release all eligible individuals. Utilize medical parole for all terminally ill, elderly, and immunocompromised individuals. Release all other eligible individuals into community confinement.
- Recognize the ACI as a priority community for the COVID-19 vaccination, with an informed consent and opt-out process for the population.
- Provide our loved ones with adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE – masks, soap, hand sanitizer) as recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
- Regularly administer universal testing across the population, including asymptomatic people.
- Provide transparency and accountability to incarcerated people’s families. Publicly release a quarantine plan for staff and incarcerated people who test positive, as well as a formal process for family members to report noncompliance. Report daily COVID-19 numbers on the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC) website and social media, with the same level of documentation and transparency as that provided around every other Rhode Island population.
As Governor Raimondo took questions from the press inside the auditorium, activists outside in the cold read statements from family members of incarcerated community members, some who remained anonymous for fear of retaliation against their loved on inside.
“My heart breaks everyday and I’m outraged this goes on under Governor Raimondo’s watch! Gina- we have watched you sweep this issue under the rug,” write organizers. “Our voice will no longer fall on deaf ears, and we demand to know: why are you allowing such things to happen?
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“808 incarcerated people are infected with Covid at the ACI and the number is growing. For nine months, family members, community organizers, public health experts and the public defender’s office called on Governor Raimondo, Department of Health, Department of Corrections, and Attorney General Peter Neronha to take recommended precautions. They ignored us and now disease has spread like wildfire inside a place already notorious for abusive conditions and substandard medical care. Every day we are hearing from incarcerated people and their loved ones how poorly this outbreak is being handled and how terrified they are.
“This is the result of deliberate negligence and longstanding abuse towards incarcerated people!“
To follow the campaign, you can follow the Facebook page, RI COVID Response: Decarcerate NOW and text “RESPONSE” to 94502.
In their weekly Covid report on Facebook, the Rhode Island Department of Corrections reported a startling rise in cases in Medium Security, and the first correctional facility death due to Covid, Lieutenant Russell Freeman, a prison guard.