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Black America and COVID-19

Documenting the impact of COVID-19 on Black America.


       Conditions in jails and prisons are inhumane. Incarcerated persons do not receive adequate food, clean water, health care, and mental health services. I know this because of the countless phone calls, letters, and conversations I have had with my mother during and beyond her incarceration. Therefore, COVID 19 in prisons and jails is a death sentence for every person incarcerated during this pandemic. Their deaths affect every child, sibling, aunt, cousin, neighbor, friend, mentor, faith leader, etc. Mass decarceration during this pandemic is essential business and needs to happen now. Black lives are human lives, no matter which sides of the bars they are on.

       Mass criminalization is a weapon of white supremacy used to oppress and marginalize the Black community. The defunding of housing, education, social services, and other community resources to fund prison construction, over-policing, and racist policies result in what Michelle Alexander calls "The New Jim Crow." In her work, Alexander explains how presidents used segregationist language and disguised their dangerous language in political rhetoric in media outlets to instill a fear of Black persons into white America. The language included some form of war: "War on Crime" or "War on Drugs." News outlets from television to print stigmatized the images of Black men and Black women by instilling Black stereotypes as "crack whores," "crack babies," and "gangbangers." Crime was intentionally written into the fabric of Black life by white supremacy.  By labeling a person as an inmate or criminal enables systems and people to ignore the existence of persons who are incarcerated and deem them unworthy of fundamental human rights. Children of the "criminal," "addict," "alcoholic," "crack whore," "gangbanger," and "thug," understand how damaging it is to be rendered invisible and silenced because of a system that would devalue our humanity. I am one of those children. The incarceration of my parents during my childhood, and portions of my adulthood, has shaped my emotional and social formation because grieving their absence forced me to grow into an adult who holds stories of pain, longing, and grief.

Co-Curator: Ashley Lipscomb, The Institute for Anti-Racist Education

Keyword Search Terms:  criminalization, justice, justice system, incarceration, prison, jail, inmate, release, home confinement, social distance, bail, bail fund, parole, exonerate, clemency, free, freedom

Title Source Image

Clemency Works Panel (recording not available)
National Council for Incarcerated & Formerly Incarcerated Women & Girls
Covid-19 Response and Resources (with meeting information)
April 15, 2020

resource collection

Massachusetts #FreeHer Car Protest Demands the Release of Incarcerated Women during COVID-19
Building Up People, Not Prisons
Apr 18, 2020

Critical Resistance
April 2020
politics, resources Platform 1
Human Impact Partners
April 2020 
resource Human Impact Partners
Pen America
Caits Meissner
April 1, 2020
advocacy  undefined
Man With Coronavirus Dies While Jailed For Parole Violation On Rikers Island
Sydney Pereira
April 6, 2020
news A view of the sign to the entrance of Rikers Island. ERIK PENDZICH/SHUTTERSTOCK
Pen America
Beth Shelburne
April 14, 2020
interview, podcast, audio undefined
Color of Change
April 15, 2020

View the letter here
news #ClemencyWorks for COVID-19
New York Tried to Get Rid of Bail. Then the Backlash Came.
James Lartey
April 23, 2020
news Michael Appleton/The New York Times/Redux
#FreeOurMamas: Art Sale Benefits Bail Funds for Black Mothers
Valentina Di Liscia
April 29, 2020
blog Formerly incarcerated women tore up their criminal records to create handmade paper for the limited edition prints in the #FreeOurMamas art fundraiser (all images courtesy of The People’s Paper Co-op)
Inside the Jail With One of the Country’s Largest Coronavirus Outbreaks
Shannon Heffernan
April 30, 2020
news Cook County Jail detainees post messages during the coronavirus pandemic on April 12 in Chicago. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Resources to Challenge Policing and Incarceration as Part of a COVID-19 Response
Human Impact Partners
May 2020
resource collection Human Impact Partners
The Criminalization of COVID-19 is Happening in New Orleans. We Have Been Here Before.
The Body
S. Mandisa Moore-O’Neal
news Skip Bolen via GettyImages
Coronavirus can mean a death sentence to prisoners
The Boston Globe
Nancy Gertner
May 5, 2020
news undefined
The Case for Prison Abolition: Ruth Wilson Gilmore on COVID-19, Racial Capitalism & Decarceration
Democracy Now!
Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Azzurra Crispino
May 5, 2020
event, video, audio n/a
Support for Massachusetts Decarceration Bill H.4652
Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice
May 5, 2020

Watch the video here
View the bill here
event, webinar, video, letter Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice
COVID-19, Drug Policy, and Decarceration: Reflections and Looking Ahead
The Drug Policy Alliance
Rose Cahn, Taz Moore, David Menschel, Robert Suarez, Peter Wagner, and Kassandra Frederique
​May 7, 2020

Watch the video here
View the original event page here
event, video COVID-19 and Drug Policy Discussion Series
Reform Alliance
May 11, 2020

Watch the video here
video Reform Alliance
Let Our People Go: A letter from inside Marion Correctional Institution is the voice of those locked in cages and discarded during this pandemic.
New York Times
Michelle Alexander
May 13, 2020
opinion The son of an inmate at a protest over conditions at the Marion Correctional Institution in Marion, Ohio, on May 2.Credit...Megan Jelinger/Agence France-Presse, via Megan Jelinger
Hunger Strike at a Mass. Prison
Jean Trounstine
May 13, 2020
blog image courtesy of
Pregnant And Scared, She Became The First Woman Federal Prisoner To Die Of COVID-19
BuzzFeed News
Salvador Hernandez
May 14, 2020
news Andrea Circle Bear Courtesy of Rhonda LaBeau
The impact of COVID-19 on prisons
The Brookings Institute
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., Rashawn Ray, Marcus Bullock, Annelies Goger, Marc Schindler, and S. Todd Yeary
May 15, 2020

Watch the video here
event, webinar, video, audio Brookings Institute
Reconsidering Reentry: Exploring Decarceration in its Fullness Amid COVID-19
The Drug Policy Alliance
Stanley Andrisse, Susan Burton, Jenny Collier, Luis S. Garcia, Dr. Shamsher Samra, Queen Adesuyi, and Grant Smith
May 20, 2020

Watch the video here
View the original event page here
event, video COVID-19 and Drug Policy Discussion Series
Inside a Pennsylvania Prison’s Hunger Strike: Inmates asked for COVID-19 protection. They were met with riot gear
Rolling Stone
Joseph Darius Jaafari, Pa Post, Vicky Taylor, Franklin County Free Press
May 28, 2020
news Illustration by Isabel Seliger
Is COVID-19 Falling Harder on Black Prisoners? Officials Won’t Tell Us.
The Marshall Project
Maurice Chammah and Tom Meagher
May 28, 2020
news The Marshall Project
Improving Substance Use Disorder Treatment During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic
The Drug Policy Alliance
Dr. Anjali Taneja, MD, MPH; Dr. Kima Taylor, MD, MPH; Dr. Lisa Puglisi, MD; Dr. Richard Rawson, PhD; and Dr. Roopa Sethi
June 11, 2020

Watch the video here
View the original event page here
event, video COVID-19 and Drug Policy Discussion Series

Decarceration and Community: COVID-19 and Beyond (Part I)
The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice
Gina Clayton-Johnson, Essie Justice Group Soffiyah Elijah, Andrea James, Zach Norris, and Dehlia Umunna
June 11, 2020

event, panel discussion Virtual Radcliffe
George Floyd
Virginia Department of Corrections
Harold Clarke
June 11, 2020
video VA DOC
Coronavirus Cases Rise Sharply in Prisons Even as They Plateau Nationwide: Prison officials have been reluctant to do widespread virus testing even as infection rates are escalating.
New York Times
Timothy Williams, Libby Seline and Rebecca Griesbach
June 16, 2020
news Protesters held a rally to bring awareness about the spread of the coronavirus inside the Marion Correctional Institution in Marion, Ohio, in May.Credit...Megan Jelinger/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The Prison Was Built to Hold 1,500 Inmates. It Had Over 2,000 Coronavirus Cases.
Dara Lind
June 18, 2020
news Keith Negley for ProPublica
Coronavirus VIII: Prisons & Jails: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
Last Week Tonight, HBO
John Oliver
June 21, 2020
video, news undefined

Decarceration and Community: COVID-19 and Beyond (Part II)
The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice
Patricia Caruso, Harold Clarke, Homer Venters, and Mary T. Bassett
June 23, 2020


event, panel discussion Virtual Radcliffe

Punishment by Pandemic
The New Yorker
Rachel Aviv, June 15, 2020

article undefined
Coronavirus is a nightmare for inmates already. For mentally ill defendants, it's even worse
Christie Thompson
June 19, 2020
news Shutterstock
Decarcerate & End Prison Brutality Now
Massachusetts State House
June 25, 2020

View the original event page here
event undefined
Behind Bars, but Still Posting on TikTok: The lives of incarcerated people are usually hidden from society. On prison TikTok, they’re going viral.
Louise Matsakis
July 1, 2020
news Inmates have used TikTok for everything from sharing memes to speaking out about prison conditions.PHOTOGRAPH: JUSTIN COOK/REDUX
COVID Cuts A Lethal Path Through San Quentin’s Death Row
Kaiser Health News
Dan Morain
July 8, 2020
news In recent days, five death row inmates have died after contracting COVID-19 at San Quentin State Prison, north of San Francisco. (Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images) This story also ran on Daily Beast. This story can be republished for free (details). The old men live in cramped spaces and b
Pen America
letter Pen America

“They Don’t Care About Our Health”: Hunger Striker at Otay Mesa ICE Jail Speaks Out as COVID Spreads
Democracy Now!
July  7, 2020


Jailing practices appear to fuel coronavirus spread, study says
The Harvard Gazette
Juan Siliezar
August 3, 2020