Prison, COVID, and Disabilities

From a talk given at the Oct. 22 Workers World Webinar on “Voter Suppression & COVID & their Impact on Disabled People.”


Betsey [Piette] and I are both members of the Prisoners Solidarity Committee of Workers World Party. Every week, we publish 1-2 pages of articles about the struggles of incarcerated workers — our siblings who are in prisons, jails and detention centers. Our party is fully committed to fight for the total abolition of this inhumane and criminal injustice system.

In many states, people who have felony convictions are not permitted to vote. In fact, many former prisoners first won and then lost their right to vote due to a recent court decision in Florida. And a very large percentage of incarcerated people are disabled. 

Voter suppression for people who have done time in prison is nothing new. Prisons do little or nothing to make incarceration accessible to people with disabilities, and we know that there is little or no real medical care available to people inside. 

COVID has impacted our incarcerated populations significantly, because social distancing and adequate PPE are not available to people inside. Prisoners are routinely and punitively transferred between prisons. A recent outbreak of COVID-19 at San Quentin Prison was caused by such a transfer of incarcerated people. The prison system did little or nothing to control the virus and guarantee the safety of the people behind the walls. In fact, within weeks this past summer, over 2,200 prisoners became infected with COVID, and 28 died. 

The California Appellate Court just ruled that the California Department of Corrections has to release or move 50% of the 3,000 incarcerated people from the prison. Activists on both sides of the walls and families of the incarcerated are demanding immediate release rather than another unnecessary and dangerous transfer.

The Prisoners Solidarity Committee of Workers World Party has a set of justice demands for prisoners on its Tear Down the Walls page. This issue impacts all people held in prisons, but particularly disabled, elderly and immunocompromised people. We demand the immediate release of this large group of the most vulnerable of our incarcerated siblings, regardless of their conviction. 

The violence of the prison system far outweighs the so-called crimes that people inside are doing time for. With COVID and negligent medical care, all prison time is now a death sentence. It’s time to free them all! Abolish the prisons, and use the money to fund schools, housing, jobs, health care and other services to benefit people not big businesses. 

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