Unfortunately just as expected, COVID has inevitably hit several incarceration facilities in Hawaiʻi (it’s in my pen pal’s prison as well). Last month, the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu reported two people inside tested positive for COVID with the first case confirmed on the 8th and the second on the 16th. Honolulu FDC also announced one staff member tested positive shortly after. Today, the Department of Public Safety disclosed an incarcerated person at the Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC) tested positive, being the first case at one of the state-run incarceration facilities. Four ACOs or guards have COVID as well—one at OCCC, one at Halawa Correctional Facility (Hawaiʻi’s largest prison), and two at Waiawa Correctional Facility. According to data from DPS and shared by Honolulu Civil Beat, “OCCC has a design capacity of 628 prisoners, but was holding 938 male and female prisoners as of Aug. 3.”
The coronavirus has exploded in incarceration facilities all across America as it’s quite literally impossible to socially distance and maintain clean and sanitary living conditions. Most people in jail and prison don’t have access to weather-appropriate clothing, much less soap, masks, or coronavirus tests. According to a study conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins and UCLA, incarcerated people in America are 550% more likely to get COVID and 300% more likely to die from the virus than Americans outside. Because living conditions in the majority of jails and prisons are horrific and unsafe already, the outbreak of coronavirus inside has only exacerbated existing anxieties. An incarcerated person I follow on Twitter (@RailroadUnderg1) has been documenting and sharing the trauma they’re currently experiencing while watching cellmates and people inside the facility dropping dead from COVID and/or not being treated for their symptoms. The user them self previously had symptoms, which they feared would ultimately take their life. According to an article by Kelly Davis for The Appeal, “In jails and prisons throughout the country, incarcerated people have described poor conditions that have only been made worse by the pandemic: lockdowns that verge on solitary confinement, rotting food, limited (or no) access to commissary items like soap and shampoo. Most facilities have banned visits since mid-March and have limited phone time.”
People in jails and prisons like Ware State Prison have collectively rioted and taken control of their facilities to protest their horrific environment living in filth, being fed moldy food, not having access to showers, and seeing numerous people collapsing or dying from COVID. Unfortunately, even though national data about COVID and incarceration facilities point to immediate release for all people being the solution to the crisis, the Prison Policy Initiative reported that local and state governments are doing little, if anything at all, to reduce imprisoned populations. They shared that “71% of the 668 jails we’ve been tracking saw population increases from May 1st to July 22nd, and 84 jails had more people incarcerated on July 22nd than they did in March.” And in regard to prisons, “Since January, the typical prison system had reduced its population by only 5% in May and about 13% as of July 27th.” Hawaiʻi will quickly follow these disturbing national trends if we don’t free more people from their cages (ideally, we’d see everyone free and safe). Just as COVID has spread throughout and devastated the entirety of many incarceration facilities, the same will happen to our ʻohana in Hawaiʻi. We absolutely need to free them all, especially now, for public health.