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How Prisons Across the Globe Are Dealing With Coronavirus Outbreaks

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  • Coronavirus outbreaks in prisons are a growing threat that could entirely overwhelm the healthcare system and seriously harm efforts to flatten the epidemic curve.
  • Inmates are a high-risk group for an outbreak because they live in cramped, unsanitary conditions, have notoriously bad medical care, and a high percentage of them are old or have pre-existing conditions.
  • Workers and visitors are in-and-out of prisons and similar detention facilities frequently, which also increases the risk of spread.
  • In response, some states and countries are releasing prisoners to pre-empt the spread, while prison breaks over coronavirus fears and anger continue to occur in other places.

Incarceration and the Coronavirus

With the influx of constant news about the coronavirus, there is a huge population of people who are being left out of most mainstream conversations— prisoners.

But here’s the thing: it is incredibly important to include prisoners in discussions about coronavirus and public health for a number of reasons.

This is especially true for the U.S., which has the highest incarceration rates in world by far, holding around 2.3 million people in prisons, jails, psychiatric hospitals, immigration detention centers, and other similar facilities.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, even the states with the lowest incarceration rates still lock up more people than nearly every other country in the world.

This is not just a human rights and criminal justice reform issue, but a public health issue as well.

Incarceration facilities are exceptionally high risk when it comes to the spread of the coronavirus. Just think about it: the vast majority of incarcerated people can not social distance. In U.S. prisons, multiple people share cells, bathrooms, eating areas, and laundry facilities.

On top of that, most inmates live in highly unsanitary conditions. Oftentimes toilets do not have lids and double as sinks where people wash their hands and brush their teeth. In some places, soap might only be available for purchase at the commissary.

That in itself discourages proper hygiene, and it is exacerbated by the fact that most prisons do not allow hand sanitizer because of its alcohol content.

These circumstances are made worse by a number of other structural issues. Prisoners are notoriously underserved medically. In many places, basic medical care is often delayed or denied.

Those factors make it even more likely that there could be a situation in which the virus is either rapidly spreading undetected or brushed off as the flu.

Further complicating matters is the fact that a large percentage of prisoners are already considered at-risk populations. 

According to the New York Times, around 40% of incarcerated people suffer from chronic health conditions — meaning some of them are immunocompromised — and there are about 274,000 people that are 50 or older in state and federal prisons.

Risk to the Curve & Public Health

Another major concern with the coronavirus and prisons is the high potential for spillover to the communities outside of facilities if there were to be an outbreak.

At most prisons, there are countless people going in and out everyday including employees, health care workers, vendors, visitors, educators and more. In some towns, the local jail or prison is a major employer.

Even beyond that, the jail population itself is exceedingly transitory: more than half of the people in jails are only in there for two or three days.

There is also significant overlap between incarcerated and homeless populations. 

“Someone released from a jail, then, could infect people in a homeless shelter, or vice versa, causing an outbreak that could bounce back and forth between both places, infecting far more people than would be in a jail or homeless shelter alone,” said Tyler Winkelman, a doctor and researcher at the University of Minnesota who focuses on health care and criminal justice.

As a result, an outbreak in a prison or similar facility poses a serious threat to public health and efforts to fight the coronavirus.

“Coronavirus in these settings will dramatically increase the epidemic curve, not flatten it, and disproportionately for people of color,” said Dr. Homer Venters, the former chief medical officer of the New York City jail system.

Failure to flatten the curve could prolong the need for everyone to practice social distancing and isolation.

Previous coverage on flattening the curve

Examples in States & Other Countries

Unfortunately, when it comes to coronavirus outbreaks in prisons, most experts believe it is a matter of when not if— but there is still time to prepare. 

Most experts suggest pretty basic solutions, like making hand washing and other good hygiene practices easier and more accessible. Others also recommend canceling activities and non-medical visits, especially near areas that already have an outbreak.

Some experts also point to recent guidance by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. In addition to increased screenings, the guidance also recommends some more unconventional possibilities, like releasing some inmates either permanently or temporarily and asking police to consider scaling down arrests for certain crimes to avoid adding more people to the mix.  

There are already some places that are taking precautions. Last week, the Federal Department of Correction announced visits from family, friends, and attorneys will be stopped in all 122 federal correctional facilities in the U.S.

After an employee at a correctional facility in Pennsylvania tested positive, 34 inmates and staffers were quarantined. 

The New York City Department of Correction (NYCDOC) is screening people for flu-like symptoms and looking at other measures. Those practices will likely be increased, as it was reported Monday that a NYCDOC investigator died from the coronavirus.

Some places have even started releasing inmates. Hundreds of inmates were released from a county jail in Ohio over the weekend.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department also announced Monday that it is also releasing some inmates as well as cutting down on how many people it puts in custody.

Iran, which has the third-highest number of confirmed cases after China and Italy, has temporarily released a total of 85,000 prisoners since last week.

There is pressure in other countries too. Last week, Italy experienced several jailbreaks, specifically in Milan, after prisoners rioted over concerns that they were not being properly cared for amid the outbreak.

According to reports, 16 prisoners were able to break free and are still at large.

In Brazil, hundreds of prisoners escaped from four different prisons on Monday, reportedly over fears of coronavirus and anger over Easter holidays and visits being canceled.

As more countries consider their options, experts hope that the U.S. will learn from the actions they take.

“We can learn what works in terms of mitigation from other countries who have seen spikes in coronavirus already,” said Winkelman. “But none of those countries have the level of incarceration that we have in the United States.”

See what others are saying: (Vox) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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2 Officers Shot, 127 Arrested in Louisville Following Breonna Taylor Decision

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  • Protests erupted across the country Wednesday night following the announcement that officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor would not face charges related to her death.
  • One of the three officers was indicted on wanton endangerment because he blindly fired throughout her apartment, leading to some shots entering the neighbor’s apartment.
  • Over 127 people were arrested in Louisville, and two police officers in the city were shot but are in stable condition. A suspect has been charged in the shooting. 
  • Across the country, many protests were peaceful, but others led to unrest, including some held in Denver and Buffalo where drivers rammed into protesters. 

Louisville Protests

At least 127 people were arrested and two officers were shot Wednesday during protests in Louisville, Kentucky over the lack of charges filed against the officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor. 

Protests began in the afternoon and carried on throughout the night after Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced a grand jury’s decision. Two of the involved officers will face no charges, and one, Brett Hankison, was indicted on wanton endangerment. That charge does not directly link to Taylor’s death but was instead brought on over the fact that he blindly fired throughout her apartment, leading to shots entering her neighbor’s apartment. 

Many were outraged that none of the officers would face charges related to Taylor’s killing, prompting protests across the country. In Louisville, where the case took place, the Courier Journal reports that the majority of the 127 arrests were over curfew and unlawful assembly violations. Two of those arrested were reporters for the Daily Caller

Two officers were also shot after they responded to reports of gunfire at a busy intersection. They are both in stable condition and sustained non-life-threatening injuries. A suspect is in custody and was charged with two counts of first-degree assault of a police officer and other counts of first-degree wanton endangerment. The FBI will be aiding in the investigation into what happened. 

After this shooting, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear addressed his state and the protesters in it. 

“Sadly we have seen at least one individual turn non-violent ways of expressing ourselves into the shooting of at least two law enforcement officers,” he said. “We know that the answer to violence is never violence. And we are thinking about those two officers and their families tonight. So I’m asking everybody, please, go home.” 

Other political leaders also responded to the shooting. President Donald Trump said he spoke to Beshear and said the federal government was ready to step in as protests escalated. Beshear had already approved the deployment of the National Guard earlier on Wednesday. A curfew was also implemented in Louisville. 

Presidential candidate Joe Biden said he was praying for the officers who were shot. 

“Even amidst the profound grief & anger today’s decision generated, violence is never & can never be the answer,” he wrote. 

Nationwide Protests

More protests were held at cities all across the country, including Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. 

Many protests remained peaceful as demonstrators marched, calling for justice and changes to the criminal justice system. In some places, however, protests led to unrest. 

At least 13 people were arrested in Seattle during protests. Local reports say fires were set, explosives were thrown, property in the area was damaged, and some officers got hurt. In one incident in the city, a viral video shows a police bike riding over someone’s head. Police are aware of the video and told the Washington Post they would be referring it to the city’s Office of Police Accountability for an investigation.

In Portland, authorities declared a demonstration a riot after rocks were thrown at a precinct’s window. A protester also threw a molotov cocktail, which hit an officer, though the flames were extinguished. Officers said that multiple arrests were made. 

Video footage captured in Denver showed a driver ramming through protesters. No one at the scene sustained major injuries. Police have detained someone related to this incident. 

In Buffalo, another video shows a the driver of a truck barreling into protestors. Local reports say a person riding their bike was hit and has broken bones but is in stable condition. The driver of the truck is in police custody. 

Responses to Lack of Charges

Before protests began, many took to social media to express their dissatisfaction. Ben Crump, who represents Taylor’s family, said the decision was “offensive to her memory.”

“It’s yet another example of no accountability for the genocide of persons of color by white police officers,” he wrote in a statement. “With all we know about Breonna Taylor’s killing, how could a fair and just system result in today’s decision?”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said it was time for a fundamental change in our criminal justice system. 

“Everyone-and I do mean everyone-should be against officers being able to walk into your home and kill you with impunity,” activist Brittnay Packnett Cunningham wrote

Celebrities also spoke out, including LeBron James, who said he was not surprised by the verdict but that his heart was still heavy. 

Kerry Washington encouraged her followers to vote, and Daniel Levy told his to donate to the Louisville Community Bail Fund. 

With all the ongoing public frustrations, Governor Beshear went on CNN and asked the state’s Attorney General to make information from the investigation public so that there can be transparency when it comes to how the decision was reached. 

Background

Taylor was killed in what has been described as a botched police raid in March. Three officers were sent to her apartment on a warrant because they believed her ex boyfriend had send drugs there. No drugs were found in the apartment.

While officers claim that they knocked and announced themselves, Taylor’s family, her boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who was there at the time, and her neighbors say they did not. When they entered the apartment, it was the middle of the night and Walker thought there was a break in, potentially by Taylor’s ex. He shot at the officers. The officers returned fire, killing Taylor. 

The case has led to national outrage as Louisville officials have been slow to respond, investigate, and announce consequences.

See what others are saying: (Courier Journal) (Washington Post) (Associated Press)

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4 UC Campuses Admitted Dozens of Wealthy and Well-Connected Students Despite Being Less Qualified, State Audit Finds

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  • University of California campuses admitted 64 less-qualified but well-connected students between 2013 and 2018, state auditor Elaine Howle said in a report published Tuesday. 
  • In the audit, Howle concluded that the UC system “has not treated applicants fairly or consistently.” In an interview with NBC News, she also said hundreds of more students could have been unfairly accepted into these four universities. 
  • In one example described in the audit, an applicant made the lowest possible scores on their application and was flagged as “do not recommend,” yet a donor relations admin passed on that application to a coach, noting that the applicant’s father had the capacity to donate major gifts to the school.
  • Howle has now recommended that the UC Office of the President oversees admissions for at least three years and said campuses should be required to verify athletic recruits’ talents.

Audit of UC Campuses

The University of California admitted dozens of less-qualified, well-connected applicants over a six-year period, “[depriving] more qualified students of the opportunity for admission,” according to a state audit report published Tuesday.

The report details how four UC campuses — Berkeley, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and San Diego — admitted 64 students (and possibly more) between the 2013-2014 and 2018-2019 academic years. According to state auditor Elaine Howle, the majority of those applicants were white, and at least half came from families with average yearly incomes over $150,000.

In one example outlined in the report, a child of a major donor applied to UC Berkeley but received the lowest possible score on their application, which was marked “Do Not Recommend.” Despite this, a donor relations administrator later passed that application along to an unnamed coach while noting  that the family had a “huge capacity” to donate and was “already a big supporter of Cal.”

According to the audit, the coach then identified that applicant as a qualified student athlete, even though the applicant “had played only a single year of the sport in high school and at a low level of competition.”

After accepting a spot at Berkeley, the student’s family donated several thousand dollars to the team, but as the report notes, “The applicant never competed with the team, and the coaches removed the applicant from the team after the season ended.”

Source: CA State Auditor

In a different example laid out in the audit, a UCLA coach admitted a student as an athlete as a favor to a donor, even though that student’s application had already been marked “Denied.” 

In fact, 22 of the total 64 applicants were admitted with the endorsement of athletic departments, despite not meeting the athletic qualifications. 

In another example, an applicant who babysat for the colleague of the former admissions director was accepted into one of the schools.

Howle’s Recommendations

In a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom and the California state legislature prefacing the report, Howle concluded “that the university has allowed for improper influence in admissions decisions, and it has not treated applicants fairly or consistently.”

“By admitting 64 noncompetitive applicants, the university undermined the fairness and integrity of its admissions process and deprived more qualified students of the opportunity for admission,” she added. 

As part of several recommendations, Howle said the UC Office of the President should oversee admissions for at least three years to “ensure that all admissions decisions are merit‑based and conform to the university’s policies on admissions.”

That recommedation will likely be especially stressed for UC Berkeley, which dominated the report with 42 of the total cases.

Still, in an interview with NBC News, Howle said she believes the UC system’s unfair admissions practice could run even deeper.

“There’s at least another 400 or so students… that were really questionable,” she told the outlet. 

Because of all those factors combined, Howle has also recommended that beginning with the current admissions cycle, campuses should be required to verify athletic recruits’ talents and review donation records for possible impropriety.

In general, Howle noted that “applicants’ chances of admission were also unfairly affected by UC Berkeley’s, UCLA’s, and UC San Diego’s failures to properly train and monitor the staff who review and rate applications.”

According to Howle, at times, admissions staff were “overly strict or overly lenient in their review of applications,” which made “applicants’ chances of admission unduly dependent on the individual staff who rated them rather than on the students’ qualifications.”

UC President Responds

UC President Michael Drake said Howle’s audit follows two internal audits that identified many of the same issues, with Drake noting that Howle’s audit will be used to improve the admissions system.

“Individuals involved in improper activities will be disciplined appropriately,” he stressed. 

A spokesperson for UCLA said its athletics-related incidents happened before the school adopted additional safeguards. Both UCLA and UC Berkeley noted that they have improved their admissions policies within recent years and that their review processes are fair. 

UC Santa Barbara also said it has adopted recent safeguards, including having faculty committees review an athlete’s academic and athletic history.

Still, Howle’s audit uncovered many more cases of unfair admissions than an internal UC audit released in February, which found only two instances of possible impropriety. That audit was ordered by then-UC President Janet Napolitano following the national college admissions scandal that has led to convictions for actresses such as Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (NBC News) (CNN)

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Celebrities, Tech Companies, and Others Draw Attention to National Voter Registration Day

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  • Celebrities including Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Ryan Reynolds, John Legend, and others took to social media to encourage their fans to register to vote in recognition of National Voter Registration Day.
  • Social media companies themselves have also launched their own efforts to get Americans to register. 
  • Facebook said Monday it has already registered 2.5 million people, but many say Facebook’s efforts do not go far enough and that people should be suspicious of its motives.

National Voter Registration Day

Thousands of businesses, election officials, celebrities, and others joined together Tuesday for National Voter Registration Day, a non-partisan campaign to register Americans to vote.

“National Voter Registration Day seeks to create broad awareness of voter registration opportunities to reach tens of thousands of voters who may not register otherwise,” the official website for National Voter Registration Day states.“Every year millions of Americans find themselves unable to vote because they miss a registration deadline, don’t update their registration, or aren’t sure how to register.”

The annual campaign has been highly successful in the past. According to the website, since the event first started in 2012, “nearly 3 million voters across all 50 states have registered to vote on National Voter Registration Day, including 1.3 million in 2018-2019 alone.”

But there is still a lot of work to be done. Nearly one in every four eligible Americans are currently not registered to vote, and as the campaign pointed out in a statement, “this year, due to COVID-19, voter registration is more important than ever.”

“Because of the closure of DMVs and halting of voter registration field programs amid the pandemic, the number of new and updated voter registrations collected across the country has fallen dramatically since March,” the statement continued.

To combat that, partners and community groups are hosting “both digital voter registration drives and safe, in-person registration events,” in addition to “working to provide accurate information to voters on how to prepare to cast a ballot, either through mail-in voting, early in-person voting, or going to the polls on Election Day.”

Celebrities Promote Campaign

Many partner organizations took to social media to promote the event Tuesday, as well as celebrities like Ryan Reynolds, Katy Perry, Kesha, John Legend, and more.

“This National Voter Registration Day, research the voting rights in your state and make a plan to vote,” Legend wrote on Twitter. “By making your voice heard at the polls, you can determine the future of our country’s criminal justice system.” 

Taylor Swift, who, accordiong to vote.org, inspired 65,000 people to register to vote in in 2018, also shared the campaign and emphasized its importance in an Instagram story.

“Hey guys, it’s National Voter Registration Day today. The election is November 3rd. It’s really coming up, and I’ve put together a swipe-up of resources,” the singer said. “You can register if you’re a first-time voter, you can check your registration, you can request an absentee ballot, you can figure out the process of voting early. We need everyone, and it is more important than I can even possibly say.”

Facebook’s Voter Registration Efforts

In addition to celebrities joining in on the campaign on social media, most of the major social media platforms themselves also took part.

Earlier this week, Twitter said it would roll out its biggest push yet to get people to register on Tuesday. Facebook, for its part, already begun its efforts even before National Voter Registration Day.

On Monday, the company said in a statement that estimated it has already helped 2.5 million people register to vote this year through Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger — already more than the 2 million it registered in 2016 and 2018. With just over a month until the election, the platform seems it is well on its way to completing its goal of registering 4 million people by the election. 

As part of its efforts to meet that goal and others, Facebook has implemented a number of initiatives. In August, the company launched a “voting information center” with resources about voting on Facebook and Instagram. 

Last weekend, it held a poll worker recruitment drive and announced it would be giving paid time off its U.S.-based employees who want to work at the polls. Just over this past weekend, Facebook also started providing users with information about how to register to vote at the top of Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger. 

The platform has also done a number of things internally to prepare for the election. Earlier this month, it announced several changes it had made to fight against voting misinformation, most notably including not running new political ads the week before the election.

While some say these moves by Facebook are commendable, many have believe they fall short. Others have even said we should be suspect of Facebook’s motives.

“Corporations are political entities, and we should not assume that platform voter registration campaigns are being done with only public good in mind and aren’t also strategic,” Jennifer Grygiel, a communications professor at Syracuse University who studies social media, told USA Today. 

“Social media companies have a lot at stake right now as they face increasing regulation. Their efforts to register voters could be serving corporate goals, and we need to make sure they are not strategically registering voters in a way that could skew the election.” 

Facebook and the Election

Facebook’s recent voter registration efforts also come as the company is receiving significant public pressure to do more ahead of the election.

Last week, numerous celebrities including Kim Kardashian-West, Demi Lovato, Jennifer Lawrence, and others boycotted Instagram and Facebook for 24 hours to demand the company do more to address misinformation and hate speech as part of the Stop Hate for Profit Campaign.

That campaign also led major boycotts against Facebook back in July by persuading huge companies like Mircosoft, Adidas, Ford, Coca-Cola, and more to temporarily halt their spending on the platform.

Despite all the mounting pressure, it is still unclear if Facebook will take any drastic steps.

During an interview with the Financial Times on Tuesday, Facebook’s Head of Global Affairs Nick Clegg said that the company will take serious steps to “restrict the circulation of content” on the platform if the presidential election descends into widespread chaos or violent unrest.

While Clegg did not provide any specifics, he did say the company had plans for a variety of outcomes, including civic unrest or having in-person votes counted faster than mail-in ballots.

While the country prepares for what is widely expected to be an incredibly contentious race, many worry that Facebook is not doing enough to prevent unrest, violence, and the misinformation in the lead up to Nov. 3rd.

As far as if Facebook will heed the demands that it do more before the election, that remains to be unseen.

“As well as fighting a rising tide of misinformation from both foreign and domestic operatives, experts warn that Facebook must prevent the platform from being used to foment violence,” The Times wrote.

“Mr. Clegg said Facebook was carrying out ‘proactive sweeps’ for dangerous groups and incitement, including ‘in areas where we know that their activity is likely to be more pronounced in other parts of the country.’” 

See what others are saying: (USA Today) (The Financial Times) (Billboard)

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