Prison Journalism Project is an initiative that promotes the journalistic and creative writing of inmates and their families throughout the United States. In an exclusive interview with Today News Africa’s Lindsey O’Neal, promoters of the project discussed how inmates are navigating life in prison during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ms. Yukari Iwatani-Kane, co-founder of PJP, said “the trends we see in the US are seen in prison with deeper and more serious consequences.” Just as there are clashes between non-incarcerated people about COVID-19 and vaccines, those same clashes are exacerbated inside of prisons.
A UCLA Law COVID-19 study confirmed over 2,500 prison inmates have died from the virus, with about 400,000 cases in residents and over 100,000 cases with staff.
“Prisons are not made for a pandemic,” emphasized the second co-founder of PJP, Ms. Shaheen Pasha. “There’s no safe way to social distance or stay clean.” Nationally, prisons are heavily affected by the pandemic, the lack of social distancing due to close quarters and lack of hygiene and sanitization enforcement has increased the risk of COVID-19 spread.
“Prisons are disjointed and state guidelines differ,” said Pasha. This means that every prison has its own standard of care, a different dynamic between inmates and guards, and a different approach to vaccinating inmates. Pasha also highlighted that there are few proper channels for inmates to speak out and express the hardships happening inside prisons.
Prisons around universities and academic organizations often provide progressive programming to help inmates. Despite California prisons doing worse with COVID-19 cases overall, prisons such as San Quentin State Prison provides informational newsletters to inmates with COVID-19 and current events news.
“We have all been silenced and isolated [due to COVID-19], especially the incarcerated, now is the time to reach out to others and ensure that these inmates are not forgotten” said Pasha.
Luckily, for many prisons, the situation is improving. Currently more than 100,000 prison residents and about 70,000 prison staff have been vaccinated and the numbers seem to be increasing.
The Prison Journalism Project is a 100% volunteer-run organization helping to provide current and former incarcerated individuals career support in journalism. If you would like to volunteer or donate, go to prisonjournalismproject.org and find out more.