Austin, Tx/USA - May 23, 2020: Family members of prisoners held in the state prison system demonstrate at the Governor's Mansion for their release on parole due to the danger of Covid-19 in prisons.

Federal Failures to Protect Incarcerated People During Public Health Crises

By Rachel Kincaid

As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, and as we face the reality that future pandemics are coming (or have already begun), it’s a fitting time for the United States to take stock of how the carceral system has exacerbated the harms of COVID-19, and for policymakers to seriously consider what can and should be done differently going forward.

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Protesters holding signs that read My Body My Choice, Human right, Bans Off Our Bodies, Abortion Is Healthcare.

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health and Its Devastating Implications for Immigrants’ Rights

By Asees Bhasin

While reproductive injustice against immigrants is not new, they are now even more vulnerable to reproductive oppression in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturning the constitutional right to abortion.

Immigrant reproduction has long been vilified and opposed, with immigrant parents facing accusations of being hyper-fertile and giving birth to “anchor babies.” Additionally, pregnant immigrants have faced additional structural barriers to accessing necessary abortion care. This article explains how these injustices are likely to be exacerbated by the Dobbs ruling.

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Empty hospital bed.

Do No Harm: A Call for Decarceration in Hospitals

By Zainab Ahmed

In an era of mass suffering, some still suffer more than others. What’s worse, there is nothing natural about it. It is human made.

As an emergency medicine resident at a large academic hospital in Los Angeles, I see how incarcerated patients’ suffering is sanctioned by hospitals and medical professionals, despite their pledge to do no harm.

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Drug test strips.

Synthetic Cannabinoids and the Lack of Substance Use Disorder Treatment in Carceral Settings

By Aaron Steinberg, Ada Lin, Alice Bukhman, LaToya Whiteside, and Elizabeth Matos

The inability of prisons and jails to address the drivers of and treat substance use disorders, especially during the pandemic, is leading to underexplored health ramifications for prisoners, and particularly for prisoners who identify as Black, Indigenous, or other people of color (BIPOC), who already had comparatively poorer health outcomes.

This article focuses on one substance of growing popularity in carceral settings: synthetic cannabinoids (SC), which are frequently referred to as K2 or spice.

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scoreboard with home and guests written on it at sunset time.

A Mind Is A Terrible _____ To Waste

By Vincent “Tank” Sherrill

You fill in the blank! I’ve often referred to the mind as a womb, or a laboratory of life, not a “thing,” but rather a place where thoughts and ideas are conceived. However, since COVID-19 has been introduced on the scene, I’ve watched a cold game being played inside two Washington State prisons: the game between “The Progression of the Mind versus The Regression of the Mind.”

I didn’t have a front row seat in the Colosseum to this American tragedy; I was one of the 2.3 million sacrificial bodies. (Some of these bodies were released, back into a society not prepared to receive, due to their own post-COVID health needs.)

Supposedly, under the watchful eye of Lady Justice, prisoners are afforded certain inalienable rights and privileges, like religious and education services, for the redemptive qualities they both provide. However, due to this plague of epic proportion within these walls (some ancient, and some modern), which have made my domicile for 28 years, these basic services that provide the space for the Mind to grow, develop, and reconcile ceased.

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WASHINGTON MAY 21: Pro-choice activists rally to stop states’ abortion bans in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on May 21, 2019.

Restricting Reproductive Rights During the War on Drugs: Intersectional Regimes of Surveillance and Criminalization That Harm Us All

By Taleed El-Sabawi, Jennifer J. Carroll, and Bayla Ostrach

Health law and policy in the United States are, in many senses, driven by a desire to control. When that control is enacted to impose anti-scientific but deeply moralized social norms, suffering always follows. Consider, for example, the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which ended a constitutionally recognized right to abortion. This decision allows states to exert near-total control over pregnant people and their bodies — and many are already experiencing physical and emotional harm as a result.

This suffering at the hands of the state is compounded by existing drug law and policies, which also prioritize control over bodies above personal wellbeing and autonomy. Pregnant people who use drugs (including alcohol) are often subject to both of these coercive regimes, facing head-on the harmful synergism between drug criminalization and the criminalization of abortion.

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cells with the doors closed at a historic Idaho prison.

The Pandemic Prison

By Dan Berger

The pandemic prison has utilized several of the worst features of incarceration as a foundational part of how the institution governs “public health” for its captives. And because prisons are never as removed from society as proponents like to think, these protocols redound far beyond the prison system itself.

The scale of COVID-19 in jails, prisons, and detention centers was expected. These institutions are defined by close quarters, poor health care, and, at least initially, little or no personal protective equipment. From the earliest days of the pandemic, anyone paying attention to jails, prisons, and detention centers knew that they would be vectors of community spread.

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2020 San Pedro California April 30: Federal Correctional Institution Terminal Island prison. Half the inmates there were infected with coronavirus.

Carceral Health Care Is Designed to Fail

By Andrea C. Armstrong

COVID-19 is not the first pandemic within prisons. Modern history is littered with examples of disease outbreaks in carceral spaces, including tuberculosis, influenza, and MRSA. Like these earlier carceral pandemics, the over 620,000 COVID-19 infections and 3,100 related deaths among incarcerated individuals to date simply expose how U.S. health law and policy fails to protect people in custody.

Only incarcerated people have a constitutional right to healthcare in the United States. That right, however, is rendered toothless when supplied through a punitive system that lacks meaningful standards and robust oversight.

Here is what we know — despite the secrecy that shields penal institutions — about carceral health care.

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCT. 2, 2021: Women's March in Washington demanding continued access to abortion after the ban on most abortions in Texas, and looming threat to Roe v Wade in upcoming Supreme Court.

How the Dobbs Ruling Will Affect People with Substance Use Disorder

By Hayfa Ayoubi and Karishma Trivedi

At the young age of 21, Regina McKnight unexpectedly suffered a stillbirth due to umbilical inflammation. She was a grieving mother, but to the state of South Carolina, she was a killer. In 2001, prosecutors charged McKnight with homicide allegedly caused by her use of cocaine while pregnant. The jury in the case returned a guilty verdict after deliberating for thirty minutes. It was not until years later in 2008 that her wrongful conviction was overturned by the state’s Supreme Court

Unfortunately, McKnight is one of many marginalized women of color who make up the majority of individuals criminally prosecuted for substance use during pregnancy. Now that the constitutional protection for abortion under Roe v. Wade has been overturned, more women like McKnight will have the full power of the state brought to bear on them through forced procedures, surveillance, and jail sentences solely because they happened to get pregnant. 

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