Over 2 million people are imprisoned in America. Most of them are black or Hispanic and they are dying in the hundreds from the Coronavirus. Is racism behind the surge in deaths?
These headlines inspired us to analyze the connection between the high rates of black and Hispanic incarceration, the surge in Coronavirus deaths in prisons and voter suppression.
- Families Of The Incarcerated Fear The Worst As Coronavirus Spreads - Marshall Project
- Prisons And Jails Worry About Becoming Coronavirus 'Incubators' - NPR
- Republicans Sabotage a Constitutional Amendment That Gave Felons the Right to Vote - Slate
This blog explains:
- How to present data so it's easy for people to understand what's really going on
- Data sources for information on prisons, COVID19 infection rates and deaths
- Groups advocating for an end to racism in imprisonment laws and humane treatment of inmates
Storytelling with data
DemLabs collected details on the prisons from ArcGIS Community Analyst. This was overlaid with data from the Marshall Project on the number of Coronavirus cases in prisons and the number of deaths by state. The results are presented with StoryMaps (a free app) that creates an interactive visual story.
Ohio has an infection rate of 8.84%. 4,312 prisoners out of 48,765 total prisoners were infected with COVID-19 as of 3/19/2020. There have been 2 staff deaths and 42 prisoner deaths.
Texas has an infection rate of 0.95%. 1,336 prisoners out of 140,124 total prisoners were infected with COVID-19 as of 3/31/2020. There have been 5 staff deaths and 23 prisoner deaths.
"Many people in local jails have health conditions that make them especially vulnerable to this new coronavirus, and simple precautions like social distancing are nearly impossible behind bars, it is vital that we release anyone from jail who doesn’t need to be there. For many, it will be a matter of life or death." - PPI
"People sitting in jails and prisons are now facing death due to the inaction of public officials across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. 670,000 people languish in local jails, most of whom have not been convicted of a crime.
During pandemics, jails are ticking time bombs: people are jailed in cramped quarters, cannot practice social distancing and don’t have regular access to soap or adequate health care. Jails and prisons fail to provide sufficient hand soap and alcohol-based sanitizers to the people detained in and working in these settings. Once inside this perfect breeding ground, the virus will rapidly spread, leading to countless illnesses and deaths both in and out of the facility." - Advancement Project
The politics involved
"Under Jim Crow laws, black Americans were relegated to a subordinate status for decades. Things like literacy tests for voters and laws designed to prevent blacks from serving on juries were commonplace in nearly a dozen Southern states.
Many of the gains of the civil rights movement have been undermined by the mass incarceration of black Americans in the war on drugs... millions of blacks arrested for minor crimes remain marginalized and disfranchised, trapped by a criminal justice system that has forever branded them as felons and denied them basic rights and opportunities that would allow them to become productive, law-abiding citizens." - The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, legal scholar Michelle Alexander.
Republican actions imprison more people of color and deny former inmates the right to vote even after they have served their terms. This lack of political clout is resulting in more black and Hispanic deaths as COVID-19 ravages prisons and jails.
People should not have to die in prison from the Coronavirus as a result of politics. Use StoryMaps to explain how official policies affect lives and the importance of voting.
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