05/20/20 Dr. Rashawn Ray

Century of Lies
Rashawn Ray
Drug War Facts

The COVID crisis is having a particularly deadly impact within the criminal justice system. Unfortunately systems are slow to change, institutional inertia and the unwillingness of policymakers to do the right thing - quite literally a deadly combination. On this week's Century we hear from a panel of experts including Dr. Rashawn Ray from the University of Maryland and the Brookings Institution; Dr. Annelies Goger, also with the Brookings Institution; Marcus Bullock, founder and CEO of Flikshop; and Marc Schindler, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute.

Audio file





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

HOST DOUG MCVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of lies. I'm your host Doug McVay editor of drugwarfacts.org. Dr. Rashawn Ray is a David M Rubenstein fellow and governance studies at the Brookings Institution. Russian and an associate professor of sociology and executive director of the lab for Applied social science research at the University of Maryland in College Park

DR. RASHAWN RAY: we know the incarcerated population is being hard hit by covid-19. The infection rate in the Washington DC jail. For example is 14 times higher than the general population of the city in federal prisons. The infection rate is double the percentage of covid-19 diagnosis in the general population in Ohio about 20% of Covid-19 diagnosis can be traced to one Prison Correctional staff are not immune in Cook County, Illinois nearly 200 correctional officers and about 400 jail detainees have tested positive for covid-19 lawmakers are facing pressures from Criminal Justice and civil rights organizations to provide better healthcare for incarcerated people and even release nonviolent offenders those among the elderly and people in pretrial detention.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Dr. Rashawn Ray. He's a Davidson Rubenstein fellow in government studies at the Brookings institution and associate professor of sociology and executive director of the lab for Applied social science research at the University of Maryland in College Park. Dr. Ray recently moderated a webinar held by the Brookings institution entitled the impact of covid-19 on prisons will hear more from that webinar on today's show. The covid crisis is having a particularly deadly impact within the criminal justice system. Unfortunately systems are often too slow to change institutions, all inertia plus the unwillingness of policymakers to just do the right thing. This is quite literally a deadly combination. Let's hear from some experts. Here's Mark Schindler executive director of the Justice policy Institute.

MARK SCHINDLER: And in many ways that the answer to your question about why covid-19 is ravaging through prisons and the related racial disparities that we're seeing is because in essence we have what I would describe as a perfect and Indie tragic storm where we have long-standing racially disparate impacts of the justice system in the US and now covid-19 disparate impact on people of color. So what we have is far too many high-risk vulnerable people locked in small spaces where it's almost impossible to contain the spread of the virus. The result is a public health and social justice crisis happening in real time, you know, most of the people who are watching today are probably familiar with the concept of mass incarceration. But for those that aren't I just want to share a few data points to add to what you shared initially since 1980 in this country.

MARK SCHINDLER: We've had almost a 500% increase in the number of people incarcerated from about 200,000 to over two million people and this resulted in America today having by far the highest incarceration rate in the world. We get very little positive impact on public safety and many would say we've had the opposite impact in fact destabilizing communities and making us all less safe this growth and incarceration has impacted people of color more harshly and we see that across the board African-Americans incarcerated at five times the rate of whites, Latinos. Also many black men, one in three black men now expected to spend time in prison that's compared to 1 in 17 white men close to two-thirds of women in prison or women of color and in fact if African Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rights the same rates as white white people we'd have prison and jail populations that would decline by almost 40% Now, I would submit that if these numbers were reversed if whites people who look like me were over-represented in our jails and prisons. It would not be allowed to stand. Now, of course the reasons for this mass incarceration or complex and include different policies and practices as it relates to policing and sentencing, but it's clear that both explicit and implicit bias as well as institutional and structural racism play a big role now on the covid-19, which was initially called the great equalizer because we thought the the spread would be in fact anyone and everyone but now we're seeing that's not true that it's hitting communities of color thebhardest and so why is this? Well, we know that people of color tend to have higher levels of chronic health conditions.

They are also more likely to live in higher density areas amongst other reasons. Notably. Those are two things we see with incarcerated people. So what are we seeing in covid-19 and jails and prisons you presented some data at the outset and I'll just add a couple of things the most recent reports show that over 20,000 incarcerated people and over 5,000 staff have contracted the virus and there's been over 300 deaths in total. We're seeing incarcerated people infected at far higher rates than the general population. And that's with very limited testing. Right? I want to emphasize that very limited testing. We can talk more about that. In fact where there's been widespread testing. We're seeing infection rates in jails and prisons as high as 70% So I fear that we are seeing just the beginning of this crisis.

In jails and prisons coming into view. I'll stop there. I look forward to the discussion including talking about strategies to address these challenges and I'll just reiterate that what we are seeing in terms of prisons and jails and covid-19 is a public health and social justice justice crisis happening in real time.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Mark Schindler executive director of the Justice policy Institute. He was speaking on a webinar hosted by The Brookings institution entitled the impact of covid19 on prisons now, let's hear from Dr. Annelies Goger, She's a David M Rubenstein fellow at the Metropolitan policy program of the Brookings institution.

DR. ANNELIES GOGER: I think you're exactly right. I think both in terms of the people that are cycling through in pre-trial stage has all the way through to visitors, but also staff, you know, you can't just hermetically seal off a facility and if you did frankly would be a humanitarian crime in my view to try to lock everyone in there.So you can't really think of these facilities as just being these closed off walls and one case that I'd like to draw people's attention to is the Marion Correctional Institution in Ohio and back in in late April.

We were seeing more than 80 percent of the people who are incarcerated there had tested positive for covid-19 and a hundred and seventy-seven till now have been tested positive as the staff members. And so those staff members are going home and their families are exposed and their Community is exposed and you know, the actually Ohio had to bring in the National Guard to staff the prison because they were so many staff affected their about 2500 people incarcerated in that facility. So we're talking about 20 almost over 2,100 people who had tested positive positive and Thirteen have died.

DR. ANNELIES GOGER: So that's just one facility. And if you look across the u.s. I looked last night at the New York Times. What are the top counties in terms of the per capita cases and five out of the top ten counties were counties that had prisons in them. And four more of those were Meatpacking facilities and poultry processing facilities. So you nine out of the ten top counties of per capita cases. Are either prisons or Meatpacking facility is and I think we need to ask ourselves. What, who are what is our value as a country?

If we don't pay attention to what's happening in these spaces and immediately intervene to make sure that the people inside are safe. Then the people outside are safe in these facilities…

DOUG MCVAY: that was Dr. Annalise Goger with the Metropolitan policy program of the Brookings institution. She was speaking on a webinar entitled the impact of covid-19 on prisons that was held recently by The Brookings institution. We'll have more in a moment. You're listening to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay editor of drugwarfacts.org on Friday, May 13th at the UN office on drugs and crime the World Health Organization unaids and the office of the High Commissioner on human rights issued a joint statement on covid-19 in prisons and other clothes settings. Here's the director general of the World Health Organization. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

DR. TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS: Today. I joined leaders from the global Health Human Rights and development institutions to draw the attention of political leaders to the heightened vulnerability of prisoners during the covid-19 pandemic along with who Zone guidance on prisons, I urge political leaders to enhance all prevention and control measures in respect, vulnerable populations in places of detention overcrowding in prisons undermines hygiene, health, safety and human Dignity. Health response to covid-19 enclosed settings alone is insufficient.

We urge political leaders to ensure that covid-19 preparedness and response has enclosed settings are identified and implemented in line with fundamental human rights and are Guided by who guidance and recommendations to protect human health. Furthermore today WHO announced the launch of the who Academy application.

Designed to support health workers and the who Info app designed to inform the general public health public during covid-19. The apps are available in all you and languages Arabic, Chinese English, French, Spanish and Russian with this new mobile apps the WHO is putting the power of learning and knowledge sharing directly into hundreds of health workers and people everywhere The WHO Academy a provides health workers with mobile access to a wealth of covid-19 resources developed by who that include up-to-the-minute guidance tools training and virtual workshops that will help them care for covid-19 patients and protect themselves furthermore in response to covid-19. WHO has utilized our open WHO platform and translated guidance into training including 68 online courses to improve the response to health emergencies it now has more than 2.5 million enrollments and hosts free trainings on 10 different topics across 22 languages to support the coronavirus response including our first course in Swahili this week.

DR. TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS: Every day, we learn more and more about covid-19 and new apps and courses for health workers and the general public allow us to disseminate information quickly and effectively. Sharing experience and best practices is critical for strengthening our response to the pandemic learning together is key to building National unity and Global solidarity.

so that together. We accelerate progress faster and build a better world for us all to live in. I thank you.

That was Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu of the World Health Organization. He was delivering a statement made jointly by the World Health Organization un-aids the UN office on drugs and crime and the office of the High Commissioner on human rights on covid-19 in prisons and other clothes settings you listening to Century of lies. I'm your host Doug McVay. Let's talk about jails for a minute in the u.s. We use jails to process people who've been taken into custody the Justice statistics reported recently that in 2018 quote about one-third or thirty four percent of jail inmates were sentenced or awaiting sentencing on a conviction while about two-thirds or 66% were awaiting Court action on a current charge or were held for other reasons and quote long way of saying 2/3 of the people who are in jail are not in there because they were convicted of any crimes the weekly inmate turnover in a u.s. Jail was 55 Percent in 2018 people who go to jail for whatever reason spent an average of about 25 days in there. The Bureau of Justice statistics also reported that on the last week day in June in 2018. There were a total of seven hundred thirty eight thousand four hundred people incarcerated in the U.S. Jails, but now during 2018 a total of 10 million seven hundred thousand people were admitted to U.S. Jails people who are being held because they were just arrested people who are being held pending some kind of an action every step along the way every step along the way people are at risk of being exposed a simple arrest everything done by the book can still turn into a death sentence prisons and jails are breeding grounds for infection and we've known this for a long time viruses like hepatitis or HIV bacterial infections, like tuberculosis, overcrowding lack of adequate sanitation, lack of proper personal protective equipment this problem has gone on for years for decades. It's not too late to change.

We can do better. We must do better. The problem is we too often limit ourselves and our thinking rather than look for solutions that will work and will last we just end up tinkering around the edges making some minor adjustments and then we keep on blundering on and more or less the same way drug courts are a great example. The idea was that some of the people getting arrested and put into the criminal system.

Would be better served by being forced into treatment for a substance use disorder. But why are we even arresting them people who have to deal with a lack of housing security a lack of food security lack of employment opportunities a lack of educational opportunities intergenerational poverty intergenerational PTSD, untreated or inadequately treated physical health issues untreated or in adequately treated mental health issues abuse folks in these situations are not helped by an arrest and incarceration but I suppose that's the point though, right and rather than help people will just sweep them under a rug or more precisely into a jail cell or prison yard so we can just forget them. Let's take a look at one of those underlying issues education. We've learned in this covid crisis that we can't do distance learning adequately because too many students don't have access to computers at home too. Many people don't have decent working internet.

Our response to the covid pandemic has had this perverse effect of reinforcing inequalities that already exists in our educational system. And the answer to this is not to just reopen schools too early. The answer is to get technology into people's hands and to give people internet access mean the problem is easily defined and so is the solution we have the resources to do it what we lack is imagination and we'll but we need our fundamental changes to the system in addition to a green New Deal. We need a new works progress administration one that has an education in stem component stem for those who don't already know stands for science technology engineering and math. We should be putting people to work building computers and installing internet laying fiber optic cable bringing this country into the technology age. We're two decades into the 21st century at were acting like it's the 1950s, build and distribute cheap computers like the Raspberry Pi Project.

Create Municipal Wi-Fi systems in For Heaven's Sake the web should have been made into a public utility years ago. The internet stopped being a toy for geeks. Well before the last AOL disc was mailed out. We have the chance to give people access to knowledge. We can help people in our communities to empower themselves educationally and economically we can help to restore Hope. Now a person could argue that I might have wandered away from talking about the drug war just now.

DOUG MCVAY:But I know that the wiser ones among you will realize that I've never stopped talking about drug policies and the implications of our misguided Drug War people get involved in the drug business for a lot of reasons. One reason is a lack of opportunity whether it's social economic or educational another is the fact that we live in a society where the powerful ignore the law and act with impunity. I mean faced with these realities. What did you expect?

These are things we can change. These are things we must change if we really want to address problematic substance use or other behaviors than we need to address the drivers of those behaviors. It won't be easy going but at least we'll be headed in the right direction for a change. You're listening to Century of lies. I'm your host Doug McVay

PRESIDENT OBAMA: if you planned on going away for college getting dropped off at campus in the fall. That's no longer a given.

If you are planning to work while going to school finding that first job is going to be tougher.

Even families they're relatively well-off or dealing with massive uncertainty.

Those who are struggling before they're hanging on by a thread- all of which means that you're going to have to grow up faster than some generations. This pandemic is shaken up the status quote and laid bare a lot of our country's deep-seated problems from massive economic inequality to ongoing racial disparities to a lack of basic health care for people who need it.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: It's woken a lot of young people up to the fact that the old ways of doing things just don't work, that it doesn't matter how much money you make if everyone around you is hungry and sick and that our society and our democracy only work when we think not just about ourselves but about each other.

It's also pulled the curtain back on another hard truth something that we all have to eventually accept once our childhood comes to an end.

You know all those adults they used to think or in charge and knew what they were doing.

Turns out they don't have all the answers. A lot of them aren't even asking the right questions. So if the world is going to get better, it's going to be up to you.

That realization may be kind of intimidating. But I hope it's also inspiring with all the challenges this country faces right now. Nobody can tell, you know, you're too young to understand or this is how it's always been done.

Because theres so much uncertainty with everything suddenly up for grabs. This is your Generations world to shape. Since I'm one of the old guys, I won't tell you what to do with this power that rests in your hands, but I'll leave you with three quick pieces of advice.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: First Don't Be Afraid America has gone through tough times before slavery Civil War famine disease the Great Depression and 911. And each time. We came out stronger usually because a new generation young people like you learn from past mistakes and figured out how to make things better.

Second do what you think is right. Doing what feels good. What's convenient? What's easy. That's how little kids think unfortunately a lot of so called grown ups including some with fancy titles and important jobs still think that way which is why things are so screwed up.

I hope that instead you decide to ground yourself in values that last; like honesty hard work responsibility fairness generosity respect for others. You won't get it right every time you'll make mistakes like we all do but if you listen to the truth that's inside yourself, even when it's hard even when it's inconvenient people will notice. They'll gravitate towards you and you'll be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

And finally build a community. No one does big things by themselves right now when people are scared. It's easy to be cynical and say let me just look out for myself or my family or people who look or think or pray like me, but if we're going to get through these difficult times if we're going to create a world where everybody has opportunity to find a job and afford College if we're going to save the environment and defeat.

Pandemics and we're going to have to do it together.

So be alive to one another struggles stand up for one another's rights leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us sexism. Racial Prejudice status greed and set the world on a different path.

DOUG MCVAY: Now while we still have time. Let's hear more from that Brookings institution webinar entitled the impact of covid-19 on prisons. Here's Marcus Bullock founder and CEO of Flick shop,

MARCUS BULLOCK: Thank you again. Thank you for having me on this on this panel. I think this is incredible. I love to see these kinds of conversations happening. I lived in those sales for quite a bit of time. When I was 15 years old. I made a decision stole a car from a guy certified as an adult as a fifteen-year-old and sent to adult maximum security prisons for the next eight years of my life because I stole that car. So I mean I spent all of my teaching on the rest of my teenage years in my early 20s growing up inside of a prison cell and first I Think that it's fair to acknowledge that my experience may be different from others as there's very little uniformity in the way that jails and prisons operate from state to state or even from state to Federal facilities and some facilities are they even designed to explicitly pay more attention to people with health issues that place them at a typical higher risk of other people in you know, in other populations, so I'm hopeful and least what those facilities that they have very clear plans to deal.

MARCUS BULLOCK: This kind of Crisis but the majority of the general population facilities like the ones where I was house. I'm focused more on the operation of the facilities themselves and less about the actual well-being of the people that live there. You know, I grew up in seeing- as a teenager, you know bodies get wheeled down the rec yard in a body bag in between count time with no one saying oh what happened this was going on like it was all in secret and then all of a sudden after a few days you like. Oh wow. What happen? oh so you know, you lock this whole Wing down because they don't know what's going on and they don't want to keep everybody's quiet because they want to keep you know, so these are the things that you're I grew up seeing the people who work in the kitchens the education wings of the prison the people clean the rec yard the people who even working in medical units, they're all the residents, you know, the incarcerated people that lived there and even when there's a lockdown to try to contain some sort of break out the people who are delivering the food trays to my door, the people sometimes bringing some form of medication to the door again. These are the costs for the residents that live there and I can only imagine how scary it must feel to live in prison during this time where you can't contain it says it has been straight time.

HOST OF SHOW: Yeah, Marcus, could you tell us about some of the ways that you think that people are trying to cope? So how do people COPE in prison? I mean and I think that some of the work that you're doing now, which our company I think lends itself to that. So could you kind of talk about what you're saying on this side in terms of the way that people on the outside of trying to connect with people on the inside and the impact that that has on on on incarcerated people. I mean, we all know that family engagement means everything right like,

MARCUS BULLOCK: you know, we all leave this you know panel today you like their families who are inside of our homes or at least on the other side of a Facebook post or other side of the Instagram post on the other side of a text message or email that we may receive saying that we're okay. I'm okay. My mom is okay. Something's going right like this is Major and we all acknowledge it as something that is necessary for us to be able to survive yet. There are millions of people that are living in those states right now who just don't have that luxury and that's even scarier think they're not only do I have to live inside of environment where I'm a contract something that will turn a two-year sentence a five-year sentence a three weeks in this and to death sentence that I'm also disconnected from my mother or my brother or my sister or my aunt or my best friend who similarly going through something and want to share inside of this moment. We're all dealing with this level of anxiety. This is again, I repeat this is a very scary time and so we wanted to be able to not only help keep families connected during the journey before it covid, right? So Flick Shop app, we built the technology to help keep families connected to their incarcerated loved ones. Take a picture and some quick text press in. Hey baby. I'm okay. I just wanted to see you a picture of the kids dancing in the living room. And then we print that picture and text on a real tangible post card. We ship it to any person in any still anywhere in the country because of the lack of a Facebook or Instagram or text messaging that you and I do every day and we when we believe that if we're being very intentional about building Technologies, @ scalable Tech that is allowing Folks at least communicate during this tough time.

Then we at least relieve some of that anxiety that we're all feeling at home. Some of us a little bit more than others because we know that we have a loved one on the other side of that wall that potentially is being exposed to something that is really crippling our country.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Marcus Bullock founder and CEO of flick shop. He was speaking on a webinar hosted by The Brookings institution entitled the impact of covid-19 on prisons, and that's it. Thank you for joining us.

You've been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the drug truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation radio network on the web a 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 drugwarfacts.org book to give its page a like share it with friends. You can follow me on Twitter. I'm at Doug McVay. And of course also at drug policy facts, 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 Now, 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 stored at the James A Baker III Institute for public policy.