Prisons and jails in the United States house a staggering 2.1 million inmates – the highest incarcerated population in the world. That means 655 of every 100,000 Americans are currently behind bars – the highest incarceration rate in the world. In fact, the American incarceration rate is far higher than that in authoritarian nations such as China (121 per 100,000), Iran (294), and Saudi Arabia (197). For some perspective on this, consider that there are 400,000 fewer prisoners in communist China than in the US, even though China has 1.1 billion more people.
As the novel coronavirus continues to spread around the world, and especially in the United States, concerned citizens and politicians have raised alarms that the American incarcerated population, as well as correctional officers and related workers, face grave risks. It is now abundantly clear that the disease spreads fastest among dense, enclosed populations. There have been many news reports about severe COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes and meatpacking facilities, where the vulnerable populations are unable to social distance. Not as prominently reported is the fact that 6 of the 10 largest COVID-19 clusters (and 13 of the largest 20) have occurred in correctional facilities. According to a New York Times analysis 2,439 cases have been connected to the Marion Correctional Institution in Ohio alone. By comparison, the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, which received significant media attention when it was evacuated due to an outbreak, only had 969 confirmed cases.
REFORM Alliance PPE
The situation has prompted a nonprofit criminal justice organization called REFORM Alliance to take action. With the support of a $10 million donation from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, the organization is donating 10 million surgical masks and other personal protective equipment to jails and prisons across the nation. That’s enough PPE for every single inmate, correctional officer, healthcare worker, and operational employee in every jail and prison in the country.
REFORM Alliance was founded in 2018 by a group of prominent Americans including formerly incarcerated rapper Meek Mills, billionaire e-commerce pioneer Michael Rubin, billionaire rapper Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, attorney, author and political commentator Van Jones, and billionaire owner of the New England Patriots Robert Kraft, among others. Mills and Rubin are co-chairs of the organization, while Jones is the CEO.
The mission of the REFORM Alliance is to dramatically reduce the number of people who are unjustly under the control of the criminal justice system – starting with probation and parole. To win, we will leverage our considerable resources to change laws, policies, hearts and minds.
Reform Alliance is bringing together influential leaders in business, government, entertainment, sports, and culture who will utilize their powerful platforms to foment significant and rapid change. The five-year goal is to remove 1 million Americans from the criminal justice system by “disabling the revolving door of probation and parole.” Many of these individuals are locked up for nonviolent misdemeanors, technical parole violations, or an inability to afford bail.