#CagingCOVID: Stopping the Spread Behind Bars

While the world is trying to flatten the curve of a pandemic without end in sight, U.S. prisons and detention centers continue to be COVID-19 hotspots, warehousing millions and failing to make the substantial populations reductions needed to create conditions of social distance.

#CagingCOVID is a campaign to shine a light on mass incarceration in a time of a public health crisis, and apply pressure to use parole, clemency and decarceration at local and federal levels to stop the spread of the virus behind bars.

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COVID-19 Outbreaks In A Virginia Shadow Prison

Jan 8, 2021 | by Laura Bratton

Marylin McCarty and Kirsten Darby of the Just Future Project in Virginia discuss the injustice of the process of Civil Commitment of people who committed sex offenses after they’ve served the length of their sentences. McCarty and Darby talk about the inhumane conditions in Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation (VCBR), especially during Covid-19.

Transcription of Amended Audio:

McCarty: At the VCBR, which stands for the Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation – right now, there’s a chart, it’s a COVID tracker of all their facilities. It’s been, you know, a 50 percent rate.

Darby: Just the lack of care is appalling. And in terms of getting into a hospital, they have to be close to death for that.

McCarty: Twenty states in this country have a system called civil commitment for sex offenders. McCarty: What it is, is if you have a sex offense, the Department of Corrections reviews those cases continually to see which ones are about 10 months before their release date. The names of those guys are given to the attorney general’s office. And they look through your files to decide whether they think you might commit a crime in the future. You cannot change your original crime, but they use that to put you there and say that you will do a crime again. It’s Usually about 60 guys a year. They send you to court for a hearing to commit you to a civil commitment facility. Some get out, and the minimum they can get out is two years, maybe three years. A lot of them have been there for 10 years.

Darby: They put it under the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to put them in a, quote, treatment facility. However, they really have extremely little or no oversight there.

McCarty: It’s not treatment. It’s just really like a prison. They have barbed wire all around it. Darby: There’s no statistics to back it up. There’s no data that backs that up. There’s no science. It’s all based on fear mongering.

McCarty: They have about 450 men.

Darby: The typical person convicted of a sex offense is usually a white male. That’s not always the case, of course. But however, in the facility in Virginia, 60 percent of the men are black. A good majority of them have been in prison 20, 25 years, and they’re poor.

McCarty: They didn’t have much going on as far as Covid, and then about November 3rd (2020), they started finding some cases and the guy that she (Darby) talked to all the time, his pod has 40 men. And all the men tested positive, and they all were sick, really sick. And this was November 4th. The doctor never came in until November 12th.

Darby: It’s just almost exactly like what’s happened in the prisons. There is no possible way to social distance. Staff at first were not very good about wearing masks. They’ve had since March, you know, to prepare. And then they’ve had these massive outbreaks beginning in October. The website says one death, but we know of three deaths.

McCarty: You know, and the nurses have been very, very unkind.

Darby: There have been guys we’ve just been hearing this week that have come and said they’re experiencing symptoms and were told by the nurses that there was nothing they could do for them. All the isolation units were full. You know, one nurse came in and said, you need to get in my line if you want your temperature taken, you know, even if they were sick. Served time is serve time, regardless of the crime. And if the judge at the beginning felt that they needed to serve a longer sentence, then that should have been determined then.

Darby: I don’t think that people realize, or the community realizes, that, first of all, all of these people have completed their sentences. You know, they should be citizens in society. And they have shown recidivism rates among those convicted of sex crimes are lower than any other crime except for murder. And, you know, their families have already tried to support them. And then they have to go through supporting them here because, you know, again, they’re treated just as if they were in prison. I personally, I’m a retired public schoolteacher. You know, believe me, if this was protecting children, then I would say go for it. There’s been no reporting on it. You know, Virginia will report on every other facility. Not just Just Future, but many people from families have been calling DBHDS. Yes. Which is supposed to oversee them. But apparently, like we said before, there’s no oversight.

McCarty: We have tried and tried and tried to get people. The legislators, they just don’t want to talk about. Some of our legislators don’t even know this system exists in a state.

Darby: Where so much of that the taxpayers dollars could go to true mental health, which during this pandemic is so greatly needed. I mean, that our Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services is throwing away. You know, 50, 40, 50 million dollars a year. And that’s just for the facility, just to run the facilities. There is no prevention in this whole system. And prevention should be everybody’s goal, you know, to prevent.

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