Life in America has changed significantly. Social distancing meant not congregating and adhering to stay at home orders. Tens of millions of people were laid off as the economy halted to a standstill. Naturally, the COVID-19 pandemic affected the incarcerated; millions of Americans are behind bars—housed in tight quarters.
Fortunately, prisons suspended rehab programs, religious services, and educational classes, according to The Los Angeles Times. On the surface, the above action would signal that correctional facilities were prioritizing inmates’ well-being. However, prison factories kept running, even after the coronavirus had jumped the prison fence, infecting inmates and guards alike.
While businesses shut down across America, men and women working in prison factories were ordered to keep working. The health and safety of inmates were jeopardized, the article reports. Ironically, female inmates sewing personal protective equipment like face masks were not allowed to wear masks themselves.
Not surprisingly, some of those same women became sick, such as Robbie Hall, an inmate seamstress at the California Institution for Women in Chino. Hall and her fellow workers knew that they were at risk but had to keep working.
Incarcerated Workers Contracted COVID-19
For 8 cents to $1 an hour, thousands of inmates kept working as the coronavirus spread across the prison system. Millions of dollars were made off of prison labor at the height of the pandemic. Prisoners were making masks, hand sanitizers, and furniture.
Some inmates were forced to COVID-19 units in prison hospitals. Hall and at least three other mask makers got sick after using fabric from the nearby men’s prison, where 23 inmates died from the coronavirus. What’s more, the women’s boss visited both institutions on several occasions.
Not only were women sewing masks for next to no compensation, but supervisors also kept raising the daily quotas, from 2,000 to 3,000 to 3,500 face covers, seven days a week, at the California Institution for Women.
“It is a bureaucratic decision to keep people working for pennies an hour during a pandemic,” said Kate Chatfield, director of policy at the Justice Collaborative, a national organization that advocates for criminal justice reform. “This should appall everyone who wants to live in a civilized society.”
Hall was laid up for weeks, struggling to breathe, in the hospital unit. Her sickness was not an isolated event. She was among 352 inmates and 85 staffers who have been infected at the Chino women’s prison.
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