By Dan Yount, The Cincinnati Herald
The largest-known coronavirus hotspot in the country isn’t in New York or California: it’s the Marion Correctional Institution, an Ohio state prison about 50 miles north of Columbus.
According to state data that is updated daily, for Marion Correctional, as of May 1, staff members who reported positive results are 175; COVID-19 related staff deaths are 1; staff who have recovered are 98; units in quarantine include the full institution; inmates in quarantine are 430; inmates in isolation are 2016; inmates currently positive for COVID-19 are 2016; probable COVID-19 related deaths are 0; confirmed COVID-19 related deaths are 8; inmates who have pending results are 190; and inmates who have recovered are 69.
In the Ohio prison system, as of May 1, 6375 inmates have been tested; 937 tests are pending; 4072 tested positive; and 1906 tested negative.
Thus, more than 95 percent of the population at the minimum- and medium-security facility at Marion have tested positive for COVID-19. Combined, almost 16 percent of Ohio’s total coronavirus cases come from the Marion prison.
Gov. Mike DeWine ordered that every inmate at Marion and two other prisons be tested. Many of those who tested positive showed no symptoms.
Yet, the situation at Marion is worse than any correctional institution in the country.
Interviews conducted by cleveland.com with inmates and activists reveal a number of reasons they say are to blame, including lags in getting test results, inadequate cleaning, no social-distancing measures, and intense strains on their mental health.
Prisons, by their very nature, are some of the most vulnerable places to infectious outbreaks, as they contain a large group of people forced to remain in close quarters, with limited access to medical care. At Marion, some inmates are assigned to cells, while others are assigned to a dorm – a large room filled with bunk beds for dozens of people.
“There is no social distancing,” said Jonathan White, a 44-year-old Marion inmate from Cincinnati serving 15 years to life for murder, told cleveland.com. “You can’t get away from it.”
Inmate Emrie Smith also spoke to cleveland.com, saying he has been in the gym, where there is no social distancing, and after 8 p.m. there is only one toilet available for about 200 men.
White said prison officials didn’t start moving to isolate sick inmates until the disease spread throughout the population.
However, JoEllen Smith, a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Corrections in Columbus, told the Herald preparations to keep the virus out of the prison began in early January. Also, ODOC officials have been conferencing with correctional officials in other states for best practices information during the entire outbreak. Smith provided a comprehensive list of conditions enforced at Marian and other state prisons to reduce the cases of the disease.
“There is so much anxiety about what is going on here with people’s health,” White added. “We view ourselves as an expendable population. So, when you see these types of numbers that are happening to us in prison, it’s almost expected – like, they (the authorities) don’t care.”
When asked why Marion in particular has so many COVID-19 cases — more than the rest of Ohio’s prison system combined — state prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith gave this answer:
“The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has taken an aggressive and unique approach to testing, which includes mass testing of all staff and inmates at the Marion Correctional Institution, the Pickaway Correctional Institution, and the Franklin Medical Center (which is Ohio’s medical facility for inmates),” Smith stated in an email. “Because we are testing everyone – including those who are not showing symptoms – we are getting positive test results on individuals who otherwise would have never been tested because they were asymptomatic.”
Smith stated that after testing, inmates who show symptoms are immediately placed into isolation.
As for cleaning supplies, Smith stated that chemical boxes are delivered daily to each prison area, and the amount of disinfectant has been increased during the coronavirus crisis.
As for mental-health services, Smith stated that the state’s prisons agency offers “a full continuum of mental-health care within our facilities” using social distancing guidelines and proper personal protective equipment.
State prison officials are also developing plans to increase the use of tele-services for mental-health care if necessary, she stated.
Dozens of protestors stood outside Marion Correctional Facility Saturday holding signs to show support for their loved ones inside.
“I’m here fighting for my son’s life,” said Sabrina White, whose son, Richard Williams, has been incarcerated at Marion for over a year now. He has four more years left on his sentence.
In a Marion Star report, “Just recently, we have inmates in here that can’t even walk and breathe because of the virus,” said Austin Cooper, who has served over half of his six-year sentence for aggravated burglary and assault. “Medical just keeps sending them back out here to the camp, talking about they can’t do nothing for them.”
Inmate Jimmy Dzelajlija, who is serving a 17-year sentence for robbery and aggravated robbery in Cuyahoga County, talked to 5 On Your Side investigators by phone about the situation inside Marion Correctional.
He said despite being tested Friday, he has not received the results of his COVID-19 test.
“That’s the aggravating part, they won’t tell us,” said Dzelajlija. “We don’t know with the numbers that high, we don’t know if we’re the ones who have it.”
Numbers from Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction show more than three out of every four inmates in the prison are infected.
“They passed out masks, we have little these little face masks that we wear,” said Dzelajlija. “Really, that’s to be honest, that’s it. We’re supposed to practice social distancing, but it’s impossible. My neighbor is literally three feet away from me, both sides, and behind me. There’s no way to practice social distancing here.”
“The frustration is building and building and building among everybody in here,” he said. “And tempers are flaring up on just the slightest provocation.”
“I saw the numbers and I just broke down bawling,” said Azzurra Crispino in a report in the Marion Star newspaper.
Dr. Amy Acton, the director of Ohio’s Department of Health, echoed that.
“As we know, there is a significant amount of the population who are really being carriers or vectors without even realizing it,” Acton said.
And that’s what scares Crispino. She said even if you don’t care about the health of inmates, the threat of workers contracting the virus and carrying it outside prison walls and into the community is real.
“The virus doesn’t distinguish between why the person is in that facility,” said Crispino. “From the virus’ perspective, they are still eligible hosts.”
It’s why she believes it’s time for the state to seriously look at reducing its prison population to try and slow the spread of the virus.
“This is a human rights travesty and public health crisis,” said Crispino.
Department of Correction Director Chambers-Smith was part of the Governor’s press conference April 30.
“Individuals who test positive are placed in an area of the facility, which is separate from the general population. Also, our comprehensive testing approach of staff and inmates has assisted us in identifying asymptomatic individuals who have tested positive who can now be isolated from others in order to prevent further spread.
DRC’s preparation began for the potential impact of COVID early this year, Smith said. This included tabletop exercises and frequent discussion with counterparts across the county. Director Chambers-Smith presented during a national webinar the best practices in preparation for COVID for correctional facilities.
DRC continues to work closely with the Ohio Department of Health in implementing operational changes as we address the challenges associated with COVID-19, Smith said.
Smith said DRC has taken extensive steps in response to COVID, including but not limited to:
- Prior to COVID-19, as part of our normal infectious disease control efforts, we routinely offer annual influenza vaccines to all offenders in our prison who wanted one, and especially targeted our at-risk and chronic care caseloads.
- We have issued numerous communications to our staff and inmates, including education about COVID-19 and reminders to engage in aggressive hand washing and social distancing where possible.
- The prisons have sanitation crews who frequently disinfect common surfaces with a chemical effective against COVID-19 in line with public health recommendations.
- We are using technology and other methods to reduce staff and offender gatherings including using tele-conferencing for our new officer training.
- We implemented a text messaging system for staff to be able to easily check in with their loved ones while they are at work as cell phones are not permitted within the facilities.
- A family phone number and email address have been established and published to help answer questions about the impact COVID-19 is having on our operations. Individuals can email the DRC firstname.lastname@example.org or call 614-728-1142.
- We have implemented COVID-19 specific health screening for all inmates entering our prisons.
- Volunteer activities and visiting have been suspended.
- Only staff and mission critical contractors are permitted into the facilities. Health screenings are in place for staff and contractors who are entering the facilities/offices.
- Staff and the incarcerated population are permitted to wear protective masks.
- We have suspended travel for all state employees to only tasks that are mission critical.
- The director issued an executive order to county jails regarding the screening of inmates before being transferred to our reception centers.
- Reception inmates will be housed in the same area by date of arrival for a minimum of 5 weeks to monitor them for any symptoms.
- Inmate work assignments, which are not on state property, have been suspended.
- Most facilities are serving two meals per day – a hot brunch meal and a hot evening meal. This is being done to ensure we have less movement and less contact to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19. Commissary prices are being reduced as well to assist residents in being able to purchase food and other goods.
- State Highway Patrol is providing perimeter security at three facilities.
Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police
Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.
Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.
Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.
The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.
“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.
“This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”
Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.
According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.
Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.
At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.
“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.
“Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”
Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.
“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.
“As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.
Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.
“I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”
Children’s Defense Fund: State of America’s Children Reveals that 71 Percent of Children of Color Live in Poverty
“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.
Part One of an ongoing series on this impactful and informative report.
By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
The child population in America is the most diverse in history, but children remain the poorest age group in the country with youth of color suffering the highest poverty rates.
The comprehensive report is eye-opening.
It highlights how children remain the poorest age group in America, with children of color and young children suffering the highest poverty rates. For instance, of the more than 10.5 million poverty-stricken children in America in 2019, approximately 71 percent were those of color.
The stunning exposé revealed that income and wealth inequality are growing and harming children in low-income, Black and Brown families.
While the share of all wealth held by the top one percent of Americans grew from 30 percent to 37 percent, the share held by the bottom 90 percent fell from 33 percent to 23 percent between 1989 and 2019.
Today, a member of the top 10 percent of income earners makes about 39 times as much as the average earner in the bottom 90 percent.
The median family income of White households with children ($95,700) was more than double that of Black ($43,900), and Hispanic households with children ($52,300).
Further, the report noted that the lack of affordable housing and federal rental assistance leaves millions of children homeless or at risk of homelessness.
More than 1.5 million children enrolled in public schools experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year, and 74 percent of unhoused students during the 2017-2018 school year were living temporarily with family or friends.
Millions of children live in food-insecure households, lacking reliable access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food, and more than 1 in 7 children – 10.7 million – were food insecure, meaning they lived in households where not everyone had enough to eat.
Black and Hispanic children were twice as likely to live in food-insecure households as White children.
The report further found that America’s schools have continued to slip backwards into patterns of deep racial and socioeconomic segregation, perpetuating achievement gaps.
For instance, during the 2017-2018 public school year, 19 percent of Black, 21 percent of Hispanic, and more than 26 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native school students did not graduate on time compared with only 11 percent of White students.
More than 77 percent of Hispanic and more than 79 percent of Black fourth and eighth grade public school students were not proficient in reading or math in 2019, compared with less than 60 percent of White students.
“We find that in the course of the last year, we’ve come to the point where our conversations about child well-being and our dialogue and reckoning around racial justice has really met a point of intersection, and so we must consider child well-being in every conversation about racial justice and quite frankly you can only sustainably speak of racial justice if we’re talking about the state of our children,” Dr. Wilson observed.
Some more of the startling statistics found in the report include:
- A White public school student is suspended every six seconds, while students of color and non-White students are suspended every two seconds.
- Conditions leading to a person dropping out of high school occur with white students every 19 seconds, while it occurs every nine seconds for non-White and students of color.
- A White child is arrested every 1 minute and 12 seconds, while students of color and non-whites are arrested every 45 seconds.
- A White student in public school is corporally punished every two minutes, while students of color and non-Whites face such action every 49 seconds.
Dr. Wilson asserted that federal spending “reflects the nation’s skewed priorities.”
In the report, he notes that children are not receiving the investment they need to thrive, and despite making up such a large portion of the population, less than 7.5 percent of federal spending went towards children in fiscal year 2020.
Despite Congress raising statutory caps on discretionary spending in fiscal years 2018 to 2020, children did not receive their fair share of those increases and children’s share of total federal spending has continued to decline.
“Children continue to be the poorest segment of the population,” Dr. Wilson demanded. “We are headed into a dark place as it relates to poverty and inequity on the American landscape because our children become the canary in the coal mine.”
Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children.
The $1.9 trillion plan not only contained $1,400 checks for individuals, it includes monthly allowances and other elements to help reduce child poverty.
The President’s plan expands home visitation programs that help at-risk parents from pregnancy through early childhood and is presents universal access to top-notch pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds.
“The American Rescue Plan carried significant and powerful anti-poverty messages that will have remarkable benefits on the lives of children in America over the course of the next two years,” Dr. Wilson declared.
“The Children’s Defense Fund was quick to applaud the efforts of the President. We have worked with partners, including leading a child poverty coalition, to advance the ideas of that investment,” he continued.
“Most notably, the expansion of the child tax credit which has the impact of reducing poverty, lifting more than 50 percent of African American children out of poverty, 81 percent of Indigenous children, 45 percent of Hispanic children. It’s not only good policy, but it’s specifically good policy for Black and Brown children.”
She Bought Freedom for Herself and Other Slaves Today a Park is Named in Her Honor
Alethia Browning Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised.
In her early years, Alethia Browning Tanner sold vegetables in a produce stall near President’s Square – now known as Lafayette Square – in what is now Northwest Washington, D.C.
According to the D.C. Genealogy Research, Resources, and Records, Tanner bought her freedom in 1810 and later purchased several relatives’ release.
She was the first woman on the Roll of Members of the Union Bethel AME Church (now Metropolitan AME Church on M Street), and Turner owned land and a store at 14th and H Streets, which she left to her nephews – one of whom later sold the property for $100,000.
Named in her honor, the Alethia Tanner Park is located at 227 Harry Thomas Way in Northeast DC.
The park sits near the corner of Harry Thomas Way and Q Street and is accessible by foot or bike via the Metropolitan Branch Trail, just north of the Florida Ave entrances.
“The first Council legislative meeting of Black History Month, the Council took a second and final vote on naming the new park for Alethia Tanner, an amazing woman who is more than worthy of this long-delayed recognition,” Ward 5 Councilman Kenyan McDuffie said in 2020 ahead of the park’s naming ceremony.
“[Her upbringing] itself would be a remarkable legacy, but Ms. Tanner was also active in founding and supporting many educational, religious, and civic institutions,” McDuffie remarked.
“She contributed funds to start the first school for free Black children in Washington, the Bell School. Feeling unwelcome at her predominately segregated church, she & other church members founded the Israel Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. When the church fell on hard times and was sold at auction by creditors, she and her family stepped in and repurchased the church.”
Born in 1781 on a plantation owned by Tobias and Mary Belt in Prince George’s County, Maryland, historians noted that Tanner had two sisters, Sophia Bell and Laurena Cook.
“Mary Belt’s will stipulated that Laurena be sent to live with a sibling of Rachel Pratt’s while Sophia and Alethia were to stay at the Chelsea Plantation.”
Tanner sold vegetables at the well-known market just north of the White House in Presidents Park. It is possible – and probable – she met Thomas Jefferson there as he was known to frequent the vegetable markets there along with other prominent early Washingtonians, according to historians at attacksadams.com.
“There are also White House records suggesting she worked for Thomas Jefferson in some capacity, likely doing various housework tasks,” the researchers determined.
Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised.
“Self-emancipation was not an option for all enslaved peoples, but both Alethia and her sister Sophia were able to accomplish this, almost entirely through selling vegetables at the market,” the researchers continued.
“Alethia Tanner moved to D.C. and became one of a significant and growing number of free Black people in the District. In 1800, 793 free Black people were living in D.C.
By 1810, there were 2,549, and by 1860, 11,131 free Black people lived in D.C., more than the number of enslaved peoples.”
Historians wrote that beginning at about 15 years after securing her manumission, Alethia Tanner worked to purchase the freedom of more than 20 of her relatives and neighbors, mostly the family of her older sister Laurana including Laurana herself, her children, and her grandchildren.
All in all, Tanner would have paid the Pratt family well over $5,000. All accomplished with proceeds from her own vegetable market business, they concluded.
“Alethia Tanner, it’s an amazing story of resilience, hard work, and perseverance,” D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation Director Delano Hunter said at the park’s dedication.
“I just learned about this history through this, so it shows how when you name a park, you really educate people on the historical significance.”
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