Prisoners Rebel Against Conditions Exacerbated by COVID-19

By Nélida Tello

As conditions continue to worsen and no effort is made to release and protect inmates, resistance has been brewing and inmates in both the US and across the world have been inciting rebellion from their cages.

At Lansing Correctional Facility in Kansas dozens of inmates rioted, looting guards’ offices, breaking windows, and setting fires ablaze within the prison. At a Washington State prison nearly 200 inmates rebelled against the prison’s neglect to which prison guards responded with rubber pellets and pepper spray. One inmate at George F. Bailey Detention Center in the San Diego area noted that “some inmates are growing so angry, they’re throwing their food trays through the chow holes.” At Cook County Jail, Parchman Prison, and the Bailey Detention Facility, inmates have declared hunger strikes to denounce their exposure to coronavirus and the states’ lack of preventative health measures.

Prison rebellions have also broken out in response to poor conditions exacerbated by the coronavirus in Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Sierra Leone, Italy, and Indonesia, among other countries. These rebellions have included prisoners taking guards as hostages and large numbers of injuries.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, prisoners have been forced to live in squalor among other infected inmates; incarceration as a means of social control has left prisons overcrowded and unsanitary.

Last month, Cook County Jail in Chicago was identified as the location with the highest rate of coronavirus infection in the US. More than 500 inmates in Cook County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19 with at least seven confirmed deaths.

Jails and prisons have failed to provide inmates with the necessary measures to limit the spread of coronavirus. Inmates are forced to use t-shirts as masks, and when masks are provided, they are not regularly cleaned by staff. Soap has been scarce in prisons even before the COVID-19 breakout, “There is no soap in the restrooms, nor has there been in the six months I have been here,” said the inmate in Bailey Detention Facility, which at this time houses 60 or more prisoners in each dormitory.

Parchman Penitentiary, Mississippi’s largest prison, has some of the worst conditions in the US; inmates do not have access to potable water, the prison is infested with rats, many cells are flooded, toilets and sinks are broken, the most outrageous of these crimes against the prisoners was the serving of raw chicken. One inmate in Parchment has died so far from COVID-19, however as of late April, only 20 of the state’s 18,000 inmates had been tested.

Prison guards have resorted to the use of repressive measures such as lockdowns, in which prisoners are kept in their cells for days at a time and only let out to shower, as “preventative” measures against the spread of COVID-19, rather than releasing or providing medical attention and protective equipment to inmates. In Peru the authorities opened fire with live rounds, killing at least nine prisoners.

On top of the 2.2 million people already trapped in this decaying ‘criminal justice’ system, there are many other inmates without sentences or even convictions, awaiting the reopening of courts due to COVID-19. This is par for the course in the US, where over half of the prison population is Black or Latino and the vast majority come from poor, working-class backgrounds.

US imperialism has already done everything in its power to destroy these people and remove any semblance of dignity; the ruling class barely cares to maintain the image of ‘justice,’ much less do they care about providing adequate protections for inmates’ health. As their anger and discontent grows, many prisoners are demonstrating the truth of the universal slogan, “it is right to rebel!”