Above photo: Miranda Bachman.
Note: Baltimore is not alone in calling for the release of prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic. And, prisoners are beginning to be released.
In Philadelphia, after weeks of protests calling for decarceration, 200 prisoners were released. Prisons initially reacted with lockdowns, which led to hundreds of cars rallying outside of Philadelphia jails for a #FreeOurPeople Rally. Judges held emergency hearings aimed at reducing the prison population amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here is a video and some photos from a similar protest in Albany, NY, “Come in Your Cars to Stop Deaths Behind Bars,” held on April 21.
A local activist caravan in Baltimore demanded the immediate release of prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Saturday, April 18, 2020, a coalition of Baltimore area activists organized a caravan to Baltimore area prisons to show solidarity and demand that Governor Hogan immediately begin to release prisoners amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Participating organizations included People’s Power Assembly, Baltimore Peace Action, Black Alliance for Peace, the Truth and Justice for Marlyn Barnes Campaign, and Ujima People’s Progress Party.
Dozens of cars lined up and repeatedly drove by the prison. Prisoners were able to hear honking horns and see the cars with their signs. They could also hear amplified chants of people showing solidarity with them. Chants included:
When prisoners are under attack what do we do standup fight back
Covid 19 is a death sentence!
What do we want? Free them all! When do we want it? Now!
Fight covid, not prisoners!
Brick by brick, wall by wall, let them out, free them all!
This coalition of progressive activists insists that Governor Hogan order the immediate release of older prisoners, those scheduled for parole in the 2020 calendar year, all non-violent offenders, and any prisoner at risk due to underlying health conditions. For over a month, the local press has warned that Maryland prisons would become incubators for the pandemic. Nonetheless, Governor Hogan has refused to take action.
As of this week, the Maryland correctional system reported 93 cases with 1 death. Those numbers are likely far below the actual level of infections. Multiple Baltimore community organizations have received reports from individuals in various Maryland prisons complaining of unsafe and unsanitary conditions.
These conditions include denial of proper protective equipment, a lack of soap, closed infirmaries, closed showers, and general denial of medical care for those with symptoms. These conditions are unacceptable and a violation of basic human rights. Consequently, the Governor should also order that all prisoners be provided with PPE, soap, and proper medical care.
This coalition asks the community to join in caravaning to these prisons while adhering to social distancing guidelines. Far too many families have loved ones behind bars who are at severe risk of becoming ill. We stand with all prisoners and their families. Please join us in our efforts to ensure humane conditions and justice for those incarcerated in a racist, unjust, and anti-poor prison system.