The New Yorker Radio Hour
The Pandemic Is Wreaking Havoc in America’s Prisons and Jails
May 5, 2020 · 22 min
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Three months ago, Kai Wright, the host of WNYC’s the United States of Anxiety, joined David Remnick for a special episode about the effects of mass incarceration and the movement to end it. Now, as the coronavirus pandemic puts inmates in acute and disproportionate danger, that effort may be gaining new traction. Wright and Remnick reconvene to examine the COVID-19 crisis in prison and its political effects. David Remnick also speaks with Phil Murphy, the governor of New Jersey, who has signed an executive order to release certain at-risk inmates from states prisons—the sort of measure that would once have been deeply unpopular and risky. “I haven’t really spent any time on the politics,” Governor Murphy says. “In all the steps we’ve taken, we’re trying to make the call as best we can, based on the facts, based on the data, based on the science.” And Kai Wright interviews Udi Ofer, the head of the A.C.L.U.’s Justice Division, who notes that “the communities that the C.D.C. has told us are most vulnerable to COVID-19 are exactly the communities that are housed in our nation’s jails and prisons,” including a disproportionately older population among inmates. Given the lack of social distancing and, in many cases, substandard hygienic conditions, Ofer says that reducing the inmate population “literally is a life-and-death situation.”

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