04/01/20 Jumaane Williams

This week on Century of Lies: Prisons, jails, and pandemic. In this time of pandemic, correctional institutions are like Petri dishes in which the novel coronavirus COVID-19 grows and spreads. Public health experts and criminal justice advocates around the nation are demanding that jails and prisons release some of the people being held behind bars in order to stop or at least slow the spread of this deadly disease. The organization Just Leadership USA recently held a web seminar on COVID-19 and the New York City jail on Riker’s Island. We hear portions of that seminar on today’s show, including: Jumaane Williams, Public Advocate for the City of New York; Doctor Bobby Cohen, member of the New York City Board of Correction; Marlene Aloe, whose son is being held on Rikers Island awaiting a retrial; Janet, whose son is being held on Rikers awaiting sentencing; and Tahanee Dunn from Bronx Public Defenders. We also hear from Nick Turner, president and director of the Vera Institute of Justice.

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Guest: 
Jumaane Williams
Organization: 
Drug War Facts
COVID 19 In Prison
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040120

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DEAN BECKER: The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens prosecutors and millions more now calling for decriminalization or legalization the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of lies. I'm your host Doug McVay editor of drugwarfacts.org In these days of pandemic people are learning a lot of new words.

Pandemic, take for instance. And one of my favorites petri dish according to the Smithsonian's national museum of American History quote- Petri dishes are named after German physician Julius Petrie in the late 1880s Petrie developed a set of nesting glass plates that created an ideal environment for growing microorganisms. The Deep flat dish filled with a nutrient-rich gelatin provided a place for growth. The lid protected the sample from contamination and facilitated. Its viewing under a microscope. Public health and criminal justice experts are now referring to jails and prisons as Petri dishes. Thanks to the spread of covid-19 social distancing as every expert has been telling us for weeks and months now is one key to slowing and possibly stopping the spread of this deadly virus incarceration makes social distancing damned impossible prisons and jails around the country are now reporting confirmed cases of covid-19 among inmates, as well as guards. Advocates around the country are begging Corrections Officials and law enforcement and public leaders to open the doors and release people before it's too late,many people held in jails haven't even been convicted. They're being held pending trial no conviction, yet we may have already given them a death sentence by exposing them to this virus; in New York City, there's been a strong Progressive Movement building for some time to close that cities complex on Rikers Island, the movement has gained a lot of momentum thanks to this virus the organization just leadership USA recently held a web seminar on Rikers and covid-19. We're going to hear some of that audio now first up the public advocate for the City of New York. Jumaane Williams.

JUMAANE WILLIAMS: All right, thank you so much for having us and everybody on the call. And I thank the speaker for his leadership and first just to echo what you said which is critically important all of these issues that we have spoken about it. If we had really invested them if we had really taken the time to try to fix them we may not be such a dire situation as we all right now. I want to be clear just recently just now the governor put out his most dire prediction yet about what is going to happen to people in New York City and in New York state and those numbers frankly are frightening. He put out some numbers yesterday. I think people have the concern about putting them out, but we have to and I say that all to say if it's a dire situation, for all of us who are outside or who have a larger space in the city in the state. What is the situation for people who are in Riker's, people are in DOCs across the state. It is literally a petri dish if you wanted to talk about a place. That was the worst place we can create for a viral outbreak of people who are housed and incarcerated that's it. And it's just just so disturbing all the slowness in which many of our leaders are acting on behalf of everyone in this city. And in this state and I want to push back on people some people ask why do I keep lifting up the people who are incarcerated trying to dehumanize them? This is not a time to play who is worthy of care who is worthy of being saved. No one that I know was sentenced to death by viral disease and so we have to make sure we lift up and continue to humanize everyone this state arrests people for simple technical violations at twice the rate of the national average. We are among the worst states in doing that so immediately there are hundreds of people like the speaker say we have a number of slightly over 700, but it's around the same range that can be released right now. There are over 900 senior citizens, who are all in Rikers Island and right now two-thirds of them are there for technical violations. These are people that we don't even need to think about our mayor is moving too slow. I also want to add our governor is moving too slowly when it comes across the state. I wanted to make sure that we are speaking up for everyone very often. We like to say that we are one of the among the most Progressive cities and states. We are always far behind when it comes to these things. There are states and cities across the country that have already done this. We are not trying to put the public at more risk. We are simply trying to protect people who are housed in Rikers and DOCs across the state many of them particularly Rikers who may not have even be census there awaiting trial many of them who are there because of simple technical violations many of them who are sentenced to minimum sentences, which means they weren't grave crimes to begin with and probably won't bring any other kind of risk to the public. Lastly, I want people to remember this is about the people who are housing these facilities in the cages. It is also about the people who are working the correctional officers and the support staff, the people who are going back to their families. What we need now is courageous leadership. It's fine to go up and try to be a calming influence because we definitely need that and let people know what's going on. But we need action. There was a cost a human toll to in action. There was a cost and a human toll to waiting in other places across the world where we see people have acted. The one thing that we hear is we wish we had acted sooner and so I'm calling on our leaders, on our mayor, on our government, on DEA, and DOCs and the corrections to move now time is a luxury that we just don't have.

DOUG MCVAY: that was New York City public Advocate Jumaane Williams. He was speaking in a web seminar organized by justice leadership USA on the incarcerated populations and covid-19. You're listening to Century of lies. I'm your host Doug McVay; Robert L Cohen MD is a physician in practice in Manhattan. Dr. Cohen worked on Rikers Island as the Director of the Medicine Rikers Island Health Services. He served as vice president for medical operations at the New York City Health and hospitals Corporation. And is the director of AIDS center at st. Vincent's Hospital, Dr. Cohen is a member of the New York City Board of correction. He also spoke on that web seminar organized by just leadership USA. Here's dr. Bobby Cohen.

DR. BOB COHEN: Thank you Brandon. And thank you. Thank you all on this call into the councilman, the public Advocate. I'm honored to be among this group. The Board of Correction has called on them, on the mayor and the governor and the chief judge of the state of New York and all of the district to immediately release up to 2,000 people from the city from the city's jails. This is a public health crisis. There are many people on Rikers Island who are older, who are older than 50 who have many many medical problems. There are people that we know have very serious medical problems and these people have to be released because without, if they are still there the population they were going to get sick. They're going to get very sick because they have underlying Equal problems and the medical staff are at Rikers Island and the security staff will be overwhelmed in taking care of them. If we can drastically decrease the population in Rikers Island as has been stated here. There are now six hundred some-odd 475 City sentence people the mayor released at least 70. I just have to say that having at least 70 people or so in the past three or four days that happens every day on Rikers Island. That means, that means nothing in terms of the of the volume of people being discharged at the mayor can himself accomplished he's getting good advice from some of his commissioners. He's getting bad advice from other of his Commissioners and he should immediately release these 475 city people he has the authority of the to do that people who are in real situation are over a thousand people there the people who are in technical parole violation, and there arr the people who are have open cases and are don't have access to bail because they have of a technical parole violation and the number of people over 50 is over is over 700 people. So they're about 2,000 people who can be be released. I think that the city has already recognized that the better population on Rikers Island is 3300 people. That's what the city of,with the city council is committed to that's what the mayor is committed to and there are 53 hundred people in the cities jails today. 2,000 of them can be can be can be released. I agree with the with the Advocate that this is this is not based upon people's charges. This is based upon the fact that almost everybody on Rikers Island has been is there and has not been convicted of anything they're there because the because even though bail has been, made more available there. There are many people who do not have eligibility for bail, are on technical parole violations, but they were all innocent of the other because they have not been convicted. I talked to doctors on Rikers Island today. They are begging the mayor to cut down the population. They and the security staff for doing everything they can to make it as safe as possible for everyone who's there, but they cannot cope with the population that is there right now so though, I as a member of the board of Correction and collectively the board calls on the city and the chief judge and the DA's and the governor to release as many people as possible and rapidly to give to give them medical and security staff, the chance and to decrease the number of people who will die from this disease. No one should die in jail. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Dr. Bobby Cohen member of the New York City Board of Corrections speaking about covid-19 and incarcerated people. He was part of a web seminar held recently by justice leadership USA. This is Century of lies. I'm your host Doug McVay. Let's stay with this web seminar next speaker. You'll hear is Marlene Aloe. we’ll have the moderator of the seminar Brandon Homes introduce her.

BRANDON HOMES: So one of the key demands and solutions presented by Advocates and the board of Corrections in their letter to the mayor is to release people who are immunocompromised, right? This should be a no-brainer. This should be one of the highest priorities when we are looking at folks who need to be immediately released and put it in to save your settings will learn at home with their loved one. We actually have the mother of an individual who is currently on Rikers, awaiting an appeal after an earlier hung jury and who has been is living with leukemia to speak about you know, how her son is at risk, Marlene, Hello. We're going to pass over to you now. Thank you.

MARLENE ALOE: Good afternoon, first and foremost. I speak on behalf of my son David Aloe and other people that are in custody who are human beings and for their release. My son is currently incarcerated at North infirmary Commander Rikers Island of facility ravished with unsanitary conditions giving the growing coronavirus already identified a trike is my concern is for my son and other people in custody me who have compromising health conditions. He has, he's been battling aggressive lymphoma leukemia for three years. He goes back to Bellevue every 30 days to get chemo and it has been stated to me that the mayor wants everyone in six feet of distance of each other and everybody in the jail is in close proximity of each other spreading can be deadly items such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizers and considered contraband. So these people in custody cannot protect themselves if they're released they can go home and they can be safe and it's very demising and very compromising to people who have health conditions in the jails and he's been battling this cancer for three years and it's a very deadly situation. It's a plague in the jails. It's a plague

DOUG MCVAY: that was Marlene Aloe, Her son is being held on Rikers Island, awaiting a retrial after his first trial resulted in a hung jury, even if he is found not guilty. We may have sentenced him to death. We'll have more of that justice leadership Web Conference in just a moment. We're going to stay with covid-19 and the penal system for now the president and director of the Vera Institute of Justice Nicholas Turner, issued a statement recently about the lack of immediate action from federal and local stakeholders. Here's Nicholas Turner

NICK TURNER: I'm Nick Turner the president of the Vera Institute of Justice. I'm making this video right now from Brooklyn, New York. And as everyone probably knows by now New York is the epicenter of the U.S. Coronavirus crisis. We have to do everything that we can to protect our most vulnerable people and some of the most vulnerable people right now are in jail and prison and detention centers where they are at extreme risk of infection from coronavirus and have no ability to protect themselves for the last 60 years Bureau has worked with our advocacy partners and with government leaders to do what we could to provide a greater degree of justice and fairness in the criminal legal system and to end mass incarceration today. I'm doing something different. I'm speaking publicly to the government leaders who we work with and saying that now is the time to be bold and we have to take immediate action. We have to stop arrests and immigration raids that put people into a system where they are incapable of protecting themselves have to release people with discretionary release mechanisms and with medical furloughs and we have to identify people who have underlying conditions who, over 55 years old or who are pregnant and we have to get them out of a system where they have no ability to protect themselves and where the system has no ability to protect them right now. People are watching New York. We are a week ahead of where the rest of this country is and we have to take bold action. We have to act now and we have to act with Humanity. People's lives are depending upon it. We have to protect the safety of everyone.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Nick Turner president and director of the Vera Institute of Justice. You're listening to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay. Now, let's get back to that Web Conference held recently by just leadership USA. We're going to hear now from Brad Landers, Brad Landers is a member of the New York City Council representing the 39th District in Brooklyn Brad serves as the council's deputy leader for policy.

BRAD LANDERS: Thanks Brandon, and thanks to everybody on this call for raising the alarm Bell 12 days ago. The doctors on Rikers Island who serves folks there, published the open letter that I put up on medium on March the 12th. I just linked it in the chat 12 days ago. That was when we had time to implement these policies to stop bringing people in through more broken windows policing during the crisis and to start moving on the board of Corrections recommendations. And here we are 12 days later and only 70 people have been released of the hundreds were talking about and more people are going in. I don't know if you heard but at a press conference just two days ago. The police commissioner said that he and the mayor feel good and are comfortable with their policing strategy right now in that its continuing with the same policing strategy. It is not being changed as a result of the crisis 12 days ago. We could have started moving. We've got to start moving right now; shutting down broken windows policing letting all the folks out that you've heard about. I do want to urge people. Put pressure on the governor as well as the mayor the mayor can do a lot more releasing, but the governor and the Corrections Department could just remove all the technical violations from folks who are on parole. So then they wouldn't be being held on technical violation. So there are hundreds of folks in there that the governor and state action could remove and then I also want to urge people to join the call addressing Federal jails and prisons at Metropolitan Corrections Center and at NBC in Sunset Park this is also happening and I got an email yesterday from a woman whose 72 year old sister is being held at MCC on a mail fraud charge. So charged with mail fraud 72 year old woman can barely stand up and she's in a place where we know coronavirus is spreading and her sister reached out to me and pointed out that New Jersey has released a thousand people, in Iran they released fifty thousand prisoners and in New York City, we have released 70- it's a crime. It's way past Time for Action. Thanks to everyone for being on this call. And we're just going to have to keep shouting. Thank you

DOUG MCVAY: That was New York City councilor. Brad Lander speaking in a web seminar held by just leadership USA on covid-19 in jails and prisons specifically in the New York City Jail of Riker's Island. Let's hear now from Janet whose son is on Rikers. She's introduced by the moderator Brandon Homes,

BRANDON HOMES: and our next speaker is going to be Janet, her son is currently on Rikers and has been for three and a half years. He is awaiting sentencing at which he could be granted time served and be released but with sentencing and many court hearings now delayed. We don't know if there's any end in sight so Janet for passing the mic to you.

JANET: Thank you very much. Yeah. I mean I want to bust this open a little bit because I think of all the other men and women on Rikers and in the other Jail for systems aren't going to fit into these cohorts that of the 2000 which are really important. And so it completely important that we start at the top and we keep digging and we dig and dig in to dig until we release more than 2,000 people because what's happening is that these are Petri dishes and currently what my son tells me is is so disturbing because most of the people will remain in these prison their risk for getting it just like, like all of us are and we're trying to you know self isolate. They can't do that. There are a lot of men and women on Rikers Island.They have to look to the people who are running those those jails in order, to- as their you know, people who are going to protect them. So identified the number one thing I think is that these men and women lack information. No one's no one's telling them. What the status is on Rikers Island. So rumors abound tensions become very hot. And I think violence is something we haven't talked about but this is we're looking at if we don't pay attention to also the people that are there and how this is being dealt with by the docc and what the mayor says and what the governor says and and impresses on the importance of all this they're going to be problems Beyond also a virus. So for example, there is just you know, there's a lack of information. There's a lack of coordination of efforts these men and women don't know what's going. What's the status of the island? They don't know if there is any plan or plans and what they are they have very little feeling to very little ability to feel that what is being done. If things are being done are really in their best interest COs come in and out Corrections Officers in and out everyday people that work on the island in and out every day. Somebody just mentioned arrests, so they're sitting in dorms of 20 and 30 and 40 people without proper with people coming in and there's no there's no way to protect themselves. Social distancing is not possible in a jail yard, which maybe they could actually distance themselves has been suspended in many cases these men and women can't even get outside to get some fresh air and to distance themselves somewhat. The cleaning is questionable hygiene and Disinfecting is haphazard. Everything is made out of metal in a jail. And we know we've been talking we've been told how metals have to be cleans their beds their toilets their sinks the tables they eat off of them and a best somebody comes in a team of three or four and clean something every other day. Every three days these men and women aren't given any training or any of the supplies to do their own self cleaning. So I really think,We need to have some leadership. They are human beings. They need to know what the plan is. We get a plan every day three times a day, you know from our government they get nothing they get nothing. So there'll be a lot of people there that are not going to be able to be released and that we can mitigate their health issues and the spread of that virus if we pay attention to some of that and I would also just go on to say that I really think that we need to continue to identify you Above and beyond these very important cohorts that we've listed before with the numbers of people that we go deeper find find all the know and low-risk men and women who can be taken off that Island we could not but I would say these are warning signs and you know, you can't there's going to be violence. You know, we don't talk about it, but it's going to happen if people are not treated like human beings and made to believe that they are being protected when they don't have that agency themselves because they're in a prison it's wrong it's wrong and it's going to be on our heads and this mayor’s head and shoulders and and our governor if they don't do the right thing

DOUG MCVAY: that was Janet her son is awaiting sentencing on Rikers Island you listening to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay. This is Tahanee Dunn from Bronx public defenders.

TAHANEE DUNN: My name is Tahanee Dunn. I'm a public defender and the prisoners rights attorney at the Bronx Defenders the confirmed cases of covid-19 in our city jails confirm what we already know incarcerated people are particularly vulnerable in the event of a Public Health crisis, like the ongoing spread of covid-19 our attorneys and Advocates continue to hear from our clients. They do not have access to soap cleaning supplies, hand wash eating and showers housing areas are not being cleaned and people are being forced to remain in close proximity to others who are exhibiting flu-like symptoms. There are extreme delays people requesting to go to clinic people are not receiving their medications lockdowns are being used more frequently with without much communication as to why and although there have been many confirmed covid-19 cases amongst incarcerated people and DOC staff. No one is communicating this so that the people can engage in self care and self-advocacy to the extent possible while in jail. We are deeply concerned for the health and safety of our clients as the threat of a widespread scale outbreak of covid-19 at Rikers Island continues to grow while the Bronx Defenders has had some success getting clients released. The city's response has been far too slow. We are asking the mayor to do all that is within his power to ensure the safety and well-being of incarcerated people and those who work in NYC jails. This includes securing the immediate release of people incarcerated, Pretrial and serving City sentences in our cities jails, especially people over 50 people with chronic illnesses such as HIV and respiratory issues like asthma, pregnant people, people in pretrial detention and people on probation violations. The mayor should also direct DOC in Correctional Health Services to better collaborate with attorneys and other stakeholders so that we can advocate for early release allowing for incarcerated clients and people to have hand sanitizers and disinfectant products relax rules about how much so people can possess allow paper allow for paper towels for hand drying and increase access to running water and showers. Condemned DOC on use of excessive force isolation and lockdowns insist that DOC expand their video conferencing capacity and availability to make sure and I'm sorry and make sure that people are produced and produced on time. This is incredibly important because of this the safest and virtually only way that attorneys and Advocates are able to communicate with people who are on the inside about their ongoing cases release of advocacy release advocacy and health conditions. Lastly many of our clients are in for a technical parole violations. We ask that the mayor, urged the governor to work with parole to help facilitate the release of people on parole technical parole violations and parole holds. This is the time for the mayor to take action to empty out our City's jails . It is only with an immediate direct action of Cities jails that we will guarantee that this Public Health Care Health crisis will not become a full-fledged humanitarian crisis. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Tahanee Dunn from Bronx public defenders speaking on a web conference organized by just leadership USA on the topic of Riker's Island covid-19 and how we deal with the pandemic among institutionalized populations. Maybe now finally in the time of a deadly pandemic maybe now we can finally rethink our policy of arresting and incarcerating people for minor offenses and really for lifestyle choices is our war on some drugs and on some drug users really worth the cost?

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America's Public Enemy Number One in the United States is drug abuse in order to fight and defeat this enemy. It is necessary to wage a new all-out offensive. I've asked the Congress to provide the legislative Authority, and the funds to fuel this kind of an offensive. This will be a worldwide defensive dealing with the problems of sources of Supply as well as Americans who may be stationed abroad wherever they are in the world. It will be government-wide pulling together the nine different fragmented areas within the government in which this problem is now being handled and it will be Nationwide in terms of a new educational program that we trust will result as from the discussions that we have had

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DOUG MCVAY: On that note That's it. Want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies; we’re a production of the drug truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation radio network on the web @ drugtruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay editor of drugwarfacts.org, the drug truth network has a Facebook page. Please give it a like. You can follow me on Twitter. I'm at DougMcVay. And of course also at drugpolicyfacts will be back in a week with 30 more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform in the failed War on Drugs for the Drug Truth Network. This is Doug McVay saying so long, so long- for the Drug Truth Network.

This is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition. The Century of Lies Drug Truth Network programs are kind at the James A Baker III Institute for public policy.