CHICAGO 4/29 — Two Chicago abolitionist groups, Love & Protect and Moms United Against Violence & Incarceration ( MUAVI ), seek to deliver hundreds of masks to Cook County Jail and women's Illinois Department of Corrections ( IDOC ) facilities for use by detainees, incarcerated people and staff. So far, over 1,500 masks have been made and delivered to Cook County Jail, Logan Correctional Center, and Decatur Correctional Center. The groups received permission from these facilities to send in CDC-approved fabric masks.
Now, Love & Protect and MUAVI are hearing from both incarcerated people and administrative staff that their handmade and store-bought masks are not making it into the hands of people incarcerated at Logan Correctional Center, the state's largest women's prison and Cook County Jail. So far, over 400 detainees at Cook County Jail have contracted the virus, 6 have died and over 150 incarcerated individuals in IDOC have tested positive for COVID-19. The virus is clearly spreading quickly, and the decision to deny people masks is further endangering their lives.
Love & Protect is a volunteer-run prison abolitionist collective that centers the needs of women, trans, and non-binary people of color who are incarcerated for surviving violence through self-defense. MUAVI is also a local prison abolitionist group that organizes mutual support and participatory defense in solidarity with mothers who have suffered criminalization and separation from their kids. The two groups have been working alongside many organizations in the Chicagoland area such as Black & Pink Chicago, Prison + Neighborhood Art Project and others, through a coalition called Free the People Coalition, to respond to the COVID-19 crisis in prisons and the Cook County Jail.
"Prisons and jails are unsafe for humans in any circumstances, but they are especially lethal in the face of a pandemic," said Sangi Ravichandran, an organizer with Love & Protect. "The only safe option for people inside is to be freed so they can follow social distancing and safety guidelines with their families and communities."
Until people are freed, it's essential to keep them as safe as possible. Prisons and jails should be supplying masks to reduce the spread. Instead, even masks supplied by volunteer groups are being blocked from entering prisons.
The state must offer clemency and release to many more people in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, those who remain behind bars should be granted the means to follow basic health and safety guidelines recommended by the CDC.
"We demand that IDOC and CCJ allow people to wear personal protective equipment ( PPE ) throughout the facilities," said Holly Krig, MUAVI's director of organizing. "We also demand release as the best protection for incarcerated people, staff, and the communities to which people will return, and most people do come home again. The demand for PPE and release are inseparable."