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A statement from the Decarcerate NOW Coalition, in response to DOC Director Coyne Fague

“Raimondo, Coyne-Fague, Neronha, Alexander-Scott: do you understand that the lives of incarcerated people matter?”

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On 12/17 twenty legislators signed onto and circulated a letter calling on Governor Gina Raimondo, Attorney General Peter Neronha, Department of Corrections Director Patricia Coyne-Fague and Department of Health Director Dr Nicole Alexander-Scott to take immediate steps to decarcerate and protect community members at the ACI. We are unsurprised by Coyne-Fague’s response, which shows no accountability or remorse for the current outbreak. 

Coyne-Fague writes that the COVID-19 spike in Rhode Island prison “mirrors what is happening in the community.” It does not. As of December 15, the rate of COVID infection in the state is 7/100 people, while at the ACI the rate is 23/100. The rate of infection in Maximum security is 94/100. 

Coyne-Fague asserts that the prison is not overcrowded, with plenty of room for quarantining. This is not true of the Intake facility, where approximately 800 people who have not been convicted, or who are held on probation or parole violations, remain indefinitely trapped as courts delay hearings and trials. We called on the Attorney General and the courts to stop incarcerating people for nonviolent offenses during the pandemic; the Public Defenders Office petitioned for the courts to grant personal recognizance instead of setting bail. Yet the number of people detained pretrial climbed by 20% between April and October of this year. 

Although Coyne-Fague cites the number of prisoners cycling in and out of Intake as a pathway for exposure, she outlines a quarantine plan for incoming prisoners that is more restrictive than the one required of COs who test positive. She insists that COs are wearing masks; that all incarcerated people had received two reusable masks by May; that sick and healthy prisoners are being kept separate; that these facilities are among the “cleanest and safest in the nation.” 

We continue to hear otherwise from family members and recently released people. It is apparent that this outbreak is the result of COs not following safety measures, lack of adequate distribution of PPE to incarcerated people, and poor policies – including one that requires first responders return to work after a COVID exposure, even while quarantining from their own friends and family. As Leonard Jefferson and Cherie Cruz observe in their 12/8 op-ed, substandard, unsafe conditions at Maximum made this a disaster waiting to happen. 

We reiterate the demands we have put forth for months: 

  1. Halt arrests and grant personal recognizance to limit the number of people trapped in Intake, where disease is rapidly spreading.
  1. Reduce the prison population to control the spread of disease. 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. Restore lost good time. Coyne Fague notes that 60 people will be eligible for release upon restoration of good time but that this “would not impact our COVID response in any significant way.” Every one of these 60 lives is significant to their partners, their children, their families and friends.
  1. Recognize all incarcerated individuals at the ACI as a priority community for the COVID-19 vaccination, with an informed consent and opt-out process for the population. Elderly and medically vulnerable prisoners are now being included in Phase 1.2, with correctional staff in Phase 1.3. Incarcerated people must be given access at the same time as COs.
  1. Provide our loved ones with adequate PPE (masks, soap, hand sanitizer) as recommended by the CDC. Coyne Fague cites that two 3-ply masks were distributed to all incarcerated people over the summer. This is absurd. 3-ply masks are disposable and are intended to be worn for no longer than a few hours.
  1. Regularly administer universal testing across the population, including asymptomatic people. Surveillance testing is not adequate in a facility like Max, where 94% of incarcerated people currently are infected. There have been cases of reinfection across the country and in other prisons, and it is necessary to retest all individuals who have contracted COVID.
  1. Provide transparency and accountability to incarcerated people’s families. Coyne Fague writes that RIDOC staff are responding to every person who has contacted them. We hear otherwise from family members.

Last night we learned that a 66 year old man incarcerated in Maximum died from COVID. He had an underlying condition that he developed while incarcerated. We called on the state for months to release those who are elderly and have pre-existing medical conditions. They refused. Raimondo, Coyne-Fague, Neronha, Alexander-Scott: do you understand that the lives of incarcerated people matter? Do you understand that you are responsible for this person’s death?

Signed, 

  • Direct Action for Rights and Equality
  • Formerly Incarcerated Union of RI
  • Black and Pink Providence
  • Never Again Action RI
  • Reclaim RI

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