There’s a lot to worry about in this new coronavirus era the U.S. finds itself in.
People are losing their jobs, businesses are closing, and we’re staring down the barrel of yet another economic collapse. Even worse, our lives are in danger.
Will we get sick? Will our loved ones get sick?
If we do fall ill, will there be healthcare options available to save us?
These are questions most of us thought we’d never have to breach in America.
The government’s answer to these calamities was to pass the largest pork package in our history. The average American got $1200 (of their own money, previously paid in taxes) back under this bill, meaning a measly $420 billion out of a $6 trillion stimulus went to the people.
The rest? Earmarked for crony corporatism and special interests.
That’s right, during what may turn out to be one of the biggest crises in our history, the government thought it was appropriate to go ahead and sell you down the river along with the economy.
To put it lightly, we’ve all had a lot to deal with over the past couple of weeks.
But despite our plight, there’s a segment of the American population that actually has it worse under this crisis. And while it may be difficult to spare attention for one more thing right now, how we treat those in prison during the outbreak of COVID-19 will speak volumes about who we are as a people and as a nation.
Currently, 2.3 million people are trapped in our nation’s prisons and jails.
Many of them have never been convicted of a crime.
More of them are there for violations that a lot of us would argue should never have been criminalized in the first place. A not insignificant number of them are innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted.
And without action, many of them will die.
These institutions are petri dishes of disease, boasting contamination, a lack of hygienic resources, and poor healthcare on a good day. But during a pandemic that depends on social distancing to prevent the spread of a highly contagious disease, those incarcerated in our country are at especial risk. Add to that fact that we have an aging incarceration population, and what you get is a disaster waiting to happen. We could be facing mass deaths within this population, which would include the many men and women who serve in corrections and their families as well.
Some efforts have been taken to get ahead of the problem, but not nearly enough.
New York City has been slowly releasing non-violent offenders and those approaching the end of their sentences. U.S. Attorney General Barr has advised the release of at-risk inmates to home confinement. And in the midst of death, even the most ardent defenders of capital punishment have had to acquiesce and pause their march towards executions.
The state of Texas has delayed two executions, and multiple capital trials have been brought to a halt.
While COVID-19 threw a wrench in the gear of the capital punishment system, not all of the ramifications have been positive. At this point, it’s a pretty well-known fact that the death penalty is overrun with wrongful convictions. One person has been exonerated from the nation’s death rows for every nine executions — and counting.
In Pennsylvania, Walter Ogrod was inching towards exoneration after spending two decades on death row for a crime prosecutors agree he "likely" did not commit.
That process too was brought to a halt though, and now Ogrod has developed COVID-19 symptoms and is fighting to be tested and moved to a hospital. State correction officials have refused to test him, even under court order. (Pennsylvania recently announced that someone in the facility where Ogrod lives has now tested positive for the virus, but they have not confirmed whether or not it is him.)
It’s hard to imagine that any person claiming to be anti-abortion would not be concerned with the plight of these people, and yet inevitably, many within that sector will turn a blind eye to this problem — or worse, assert that these people deserve their fate.
We’re writing history right now.
This pandemic and our response to it will be studied for decades to come.
How we uphold the sanctity of human life during this time will speak volumes about who we are as a people, a society, and a nation.
Hannah Cox is the National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Hannah was previously Director of Outreach for the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank. Prior to that, she was Director of Development for the Tennessee Firearms Association and a policy advocate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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