Rhode Islanders concerned for the wellbeing of those incarcerated in the state’s carceral facilities circled the premises of the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) in a car rally on Sunday. Drivers taped posters to their windows in protest of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections’ (RIDOC) mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic within the ACI. Honking and waving at incarcerated people in the facilities, they stopped outside Maximum facility to deliver demands and chant. Formerly incarcerated people with loved ones inside spoke on the neglect of the incarcerated population during the pandemic.
An organizer with an incarcerated loved one called on RIDOC Director Patricia Coyne-Fague to, “Take control over your guards! Tell them to do their job! Roll the tape so you can see with your own eyes that your employees are refusing to follow the state’s new COVID-19 protocols, and RIDOC’s own policies. Our loved ones’ lives matter. They’re trying to protect themselves because you have failed to do so.”
For nearly eleven months, a coalition of formerly incarcerated Rhode Islanders, loved ones of those currently incarcerated, and community allies have been mobilizing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the ACI. Those efforts have largely been met with silence and inaction by Governor Gina Raimondo and RIDOC. In early December, RIDOC’s longstanding Medical Director resigned after nearly 450 of approximately 2100 incarcerated Rhode Islanders contracted coronavirus in November alone. Soon after her resignation, two incarcerated people and one correctional officer died from COVID-19. In response, the Decarcerate NOW Coalition held a vigil at Governor Raimondo’s house, where six medical professionals and students were arrested blocking the road in solidarity. This past month, billboards were anonymously erected along Route 95. They each depicted an incarcerated person, with the words, “Gina, You’re Killing Us.”
In response to community demands that incarcerated people be considered a priority population for the vaccination, the state included high risk incarcerated people in Phase 1. However, Rhode Islanders and their loved ones have continued to report insufficient medical care, limited access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies, prison staff shirking Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, haphazard quarantine policies, and inhumane restrictions. Calls to release elderly and medically vulnerable people and to halt arrests have been ignored. Rhode Islanders continue to be held at the Intake facility awaiting trial or on probation and parole violations including positive drug screens.
At the rally, organizers reiterated their demands:
- Halt arrests and grant personal recognizance so that our loved ones are not being held indefinitely at Intake waiting for court hearings and trials.
- 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 entire ACI as a priority community for the COVID-19 vaccination, with an informed consent or opt-out process for the population.
- Provide our loved ones with adequate Personal Protective Equipment (masks, soap, hand sanitizer) as recommended by the 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 RIDOC website and social media.
- End 23+ hour lockdown. It has proven ineffective as a quarantine measure, especially as incarcerated people continue to report that prisoners testing positive are being housed with those who have tested negative. Safely restore time outside cells, including access to yard time outdoors.
This action was organized by the Decarcerate NOW Coalition, which is made up of directly impacted community members and organizations including Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE), the Formerly Incarcerated Union of RI (FIURI), Black and Pink Providence, and Never Again Action Rhode Island.