As the pandemic unfolds, state agencies should take a flexible approach to enforcement of restrictions on inmates’ ability to connect with the outside world.
By Mark Rumold
COVID-19 has trapped many of us in our homes, isolating us from family and friends and limiting our movements. But there are few people who feel the isolating impacts of COVID-19 more acutely than those who are actually incarcerated in jails and prisons across the country. As Jerry Metcalf, an inmate in Michigan, wrote for the Marshall Project’s “Life on the Inside” series:
For those of you reading this who feel trapped or are going stir-crazy due to your coronavirus-induced confinement, the best advice I can give you—as someone used to suffering in long-term confinement—is to take a pause, inhale a few deep breaths, then look around at all the things you have to be grateful for.
Metcalf’s is an important perspective to have, but, unfortunately, it is increasingly difficult to hear from inmates like him. That’s because prison systems are making it harder for the public to hear from incarcerated people through excessive restrictions on the ways prisoners can express themselves over the Internet.
It’s especially important to hear from Metcalf, and others like him, in this moment—given the heightened risk COVID-19 poses to inmates. The virus has already demonstrated an ability to move swiftly through closed spaces, like cruise ships and nursing homes—and it’s already made its way into several prison systems, the consequences of which we’ll sadly see unfold over the next several weeks. As Metcalf described it, COVID-19 has turned his prison into a “death trap.” Given the potential humanitarian crisis many prisoners now face, it’s critically important to receive unvarnished reports from them about life inside prison walls.