Building on our earlier work at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, this week the Houston Institute filed another amicus brief before the Supreme Judicial Court joined by Dr. Mary T. Bassett, MD, MPH, and Dr. Monik Jiménez, ScD. Dr. Bassett was the senior author and Dr. Jiménez the first author on a July study on the rate of COVID-19 within Massachusetts jails and prisons, which found that “The rate of COVID-19 among incarcerated individuals was nearly 3 times that of the Massachusetts general population and 5 times the US rate, consistent with recent reports in US federal and state prisons.”
In our brief, we argue that the threat of COVID-19 in correctional environments in Massachusetts remains present, urgent, and severe. Experience and data have shown that the risk to incarcerated people from COVID-19 is not facility-dependent; it is inherent to every carceral setting and may rear its head unpredictably. Testing conducted by the DOC cannot predict the future; at best, it can confirm the past—reflecting only people’s COVID-19 status on the day of testing, with at least 20% false negatives even on the most accurate testing date. Since staff who leave prisons and jails every day and return to their homes and communities are the primary vectors of infection in jail and prison environments, without regular screening of staff through universal testing, the DOC cannot accurately measure or manage COVID-19 within its facilities. We urge the Supreme Judicial Court to find that the fact of incarceration is a significant risk factor for COVID-19, and accordingly it militates in favor of a stay sentence for two elderly Black men incarcerated at MCI-Norfolk.
Read our brief: