Nearly 100,000 surgical masks have been sent to prisons to protect inmates from the coronavirus, courtesy of Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill, Sixers partner Michael Rubin, and their criminal justice reform organization.
On Friday, with the help of author and prison reform advocate Shaka Senghor, the Reform Alliance rushed 50,000 masks to New York’s Rikers Island, where hundreds of inmates and staff have been infected with the virus.
It plans to deliver 2,500 to a Rikers’ medical facility; 40,000 to the Tennessee Department of Corrections; and 5,000 to the Mississippi State Penitentiary, the organization said in a statement.
The deliveries come as prisons across the country start to see cases of the coronavirus and activists, including the ACLU of Pennsylvania, call for officials to reduce prison populations by releasing low-level offenders and people with health conditions that make them more susceptible. Corrections officials say they can handle the crisis and don’t want to threaten public safety.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has said he wants to reduce the city’s jail population —which is about 4,400 — due to the pandemic. There have been cases reported in city jails, as well as in correctional facilities in Montgomery, Delaware, and Chester Counties.
“I cannot sleep. I cannot breathe, and I feel like I’m going to die,” one inmate in York County Prison wrote last month. “Nobody in here can even get me an inhaler. How can they save us from this virus?”
Along with sending masks, and Rubin making masks for health-care workers, the Reform Alliance is also advocating for reductions in jail populations.
“Governors and people who run jails and prisons in this country need to take the pandemic in Rikers as a warning,” news commentator, author, and Reform Alliance CEO Van Jones said in a statement. “We’re in danger of seeing prisons coast to coast turn into morgues. It is important to get medical supplies in, and it is equally important to get more human beings out."