Release from Prison: A Necessary Policy In Times of Coronavirus

There were rebellions in prison units in Italy, leaving at least six dead; in Colombia, there were 23 dead in 17 prison riots; there were several revolts in Jordan and Israel as well; 1,379 inmates escaped after several outbreaks in five prison units in the State of San Pablo.
By: Américo Gomes,  Mar 27, 2020
These revolts happened after announcements of the measures that would be applied due to the pandemic were made, among these measures: suspension of relatives’ and lawyers’ visits and the suspension of prisoners’ early release due to good behavior; supposedly justified under the pretense that it’s to avoid the propagation of the virus. All of which is completely unjustifiable because of the overcrowding, lousy sanitary conditions (many with no water), with low quality nourishment and doubtful handling. These elements are all virus propagators.
Lousy prison conditions created by capitalism and the bourgeois State whose main objective is repression and coercion of the working class.
So much so that the few bourgeois prisoners, those accused of not only fraud, theft, and corruption but also of all types of crimes, are in pavilions or special cells, or under house arrest in their mansions, with all the luxuries and commodities.
Prison as a means of control over the proletariate by the bourgeoisie
The prison system is a fundamental element in the repression apparatus used by the bourgeois class against the working class. It’s not just the death and murders that bring terror and fear to the class, but the ill treatment, rudeness, torture that they are subjected to in the prison regime that are part of the framework built by the bourgeois repression regimes.
Bourgeois national and international laws, dictate that prisons should serve to rehabilitate and not to punish. When in actuality, the real objective is to penalize and punish, with overcrowding and abandonment, low quality food, lack of basic cleaning supplies, lack of vaccination plans, lack of job training schools, lack of education, and of recreation centers (such as gyms, sports areas and libraries). The cuts to national funding to pay international banking only make matters worse.
The pandemic is going to eradicate the most vulnerable sectors
There were over thirty prison riots in Italy, where the prison system has an overpopulation of more than 10,000 people, reaching more than 10 prisoners per cell, with precarious sanitary conditions and propagation of infections and diseases. They suspended “work permits”, parents’ visits and access to social workers and volunteers. Non official numbers indicate that these riots added up to fifteen people dead.
As degrading as it is, the Italian prison system doesn’t reach the point at which the Brazilian prison system is in, which surpassed the barbarism limit, having the third highest prison population in the world. The cells are just a few square meters in area, are completely full, with little to no ventilation; in some penitentiaries, washing your hands is almost impossible, it’s a privilege.
The coronavirus in these prisons will extend its reach at an incredible speed; it’ll be impossible to contain its dissemination in a population that, even today, is plagued by various illnesses, such as AIDS and tuberculosis, increasing the lethality of the coronavirus. Magnified by the lousy nutritional condition of the inmates and the precariousness of the health services.
To fight against these conditions, the bourgeois governments’ proposals are, as always, more repression; that will only amplify the situation and significantly magnify the internal tensions and consequently, the risk of rebellions and jailbreaks; these are: visitor restrictions, suspension of early releases and punishment increases.
A preview of this happened in various prisons in several countries around the world in the last few days.
23 Dead in Bogotá
A protest against the lousy prison conditions in the Modelo de Bogotá Prison ended with a massacre, leaving 23 dead and 81 wounded, carried out by the police and the Colombian Army on March 22nd.  The massacre was followed by the silence of the prison authorities and the federal government, but the silence was broken by the inmates’ families and human rights organizations.
This proves that, in this “war” against the coronavirus, the death of the most impoverished sectors of society is deemed as “collateral damage” by the bourgeoisie.
Death as Collateral Damage
In Brazil, this barbaric situation has sparked debate even between sectors of the bourgeoisie. Jurists of the STF (Federal Supreme Court) presented some measures in the sense to decrease prison populations. Human Rights organizations proposed granting parole or house arrest to elderly detainees or to those presenting illnesses that can aggravate a COVID-19 infection, as well as pregnant or nursing women. However, the Justice Minister, Sérgio Moro, proving that he’s sticking with the guidelines of Bolsonaro’s government, in what public health and general contempt of the most impoverished regards, claims that the government pretends to vaccinate inmates against the common cold (sic) “to avoid confusion” between the flu infections and that he’s absolutely against releasing any type of prisoners, so as to not “excessively jeopardize” the general population.
This positioning is so absurd that even bourgeois governments and dictatorships are releasing prisoners, like Iran, where they liberated nearly 85,000 inmates, among them political prisoners (maybe a dozen), the majority with sentences below five years. Trump’s American government just released over 6,000 prisoners who were serving time in federal prisons for non-violent, drug-related crimes. Moro and Bolsonaro, however, decided not to follow the lead of their mentor, Trump.
Some proposals
What these governments are doing is not only insufficient and plain wrong; from the bourgeois humanitarian point of view it is inhumane, since they in fact want to introduce the death penalty in the prison system, because they believe they are collateral losses of lives.
We’ve been taught to believe that there are many dangerous criminals in the penitentiaries (which, there are) and that these must be in confinement, apart from society. These governments take advantage of this general understanding that workers have of the prison system to generalize this vision for the whole lot of detainees.
It just so happens that in Brazil, for example, of the more than 800,000 inmates, 41% do not have a court conviction, are under 30 years of age and are first time offenders.
There is suspicion of contamination in various prison units, all of them overcrowded (like the one in Tremembé, whose unit I holds 2,084 prisoners but has capacity for 1,284), where the inmates are not subjected to any type of test. The prisoners that rebel or protest against this situation are punished with cuts to food and water.
As an emergency measure, in times of crisis, pre-trial detentions should be revoked for all inmates accused of non-violent crimes. These prisoners should await their trials in freedom.
Besides, those condemned for non-violent crimes with small sentences, should be placed under parole, house arrest or provisional release. This is to say fraudsters, petty theft assailants, and small drug traffickers. The majority of whom are poor, black, immigrants and live in the peripheries.
This excludes those who were convicted of violent crimes, such as larceny, theft followed by death, kidnappings and murders; violence against women, as well as crimes of the militia, hired assassins, State agents, torturers or those who have committed crimes against humanity.
Alongside these measures, a containment plan of the epidemic must be put in place in the prison system, supervised by state organizations, human rights organizations and the inmates’ relatives.
These are minimal, emergency measures compared to the catastrophic, barbaric situation we are living, carried out by the mess and capitalist anarchism that always put their profits first.
It is not fair that capitalism, which is responsible for the propagation of this terrible pandemic, will take advantage of it to eliminate common inmates for petty crimes, who they keep confined to these prisons in subhuman conditions.
The fight for life must be put in place urgently in the frame of a socialist revolution, to free the world of this succession of horrors that capitalism has to offer to all of humanity.
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Translation: Anastasia Ransewak

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