COVID-19 has reached SCI Phoenix.

The Department of Corrections first inmate to test positive lives among the highest incarcerated population of the highest elderly population. While that person is reported to be in the infirmary, the presence of the virus within prison walls represents a massive humanitarian crisis. We are in the midst of a global pandemic of unimaginable proportions, of which our imprisoned population is a part. 

The Prison Policy Initiative has stated that, the “justice-involved” population disproportionately has health conditions making them more vulnerable– and they are older. SCI Phoenix holds more than 3,000 people, including more than 600 serving a death by incarceration sentence, more than any other prison in the DOC. There are 1006 people at SCI Phoenix serving a sentence with a 15-year minimum, and 450 of them are aged 55 or older.”

John Rowland of the ALC says, “While we’ve known all along that COVID-19 would reach prisons, the fact that it’s first reached SCI Phoenix – the prison with the most lifers and hundreds of elderly and senior lifers – should be an immediate sobering call for Governor Wolf and state officials who have hoped this would go away. The time for pretending that it could be kept from prisons is over, the time for pretending that it won’t spread quickly within prisons is over, and the time for convenient fantasies that it somehow won’t kill the elderly and vulnerable within prisons is especially over. 

The DOC knows it has no chance of containing or treating COVID within crowded facilities built on shared space, with nothing remotely close to adequate medical facilities. There is no longer any way to hope that Pennsylvania isn’t facing potential state-sponsored mass death. There is no choice to avoid that now, except Governor Wolf using his power of reprieve to release the elderly and vulnerable in state prisons: starting with the immediate screening and release of the many elderly rehabilitated people housed at SCI-Phoenix.”

Mass incarceration is a public health liability.

Decarceration saves lives and protects public health particularly during this moment of crisis.

We knew it was coming.

Now is the time to #letthevulnerablego.