As coronavirus spreads among inmates, advocates call for release

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Some Texans spent Memorial Day weekend tanning at the beach; others, namely dozens of family members of Texas prisoners, spent it protesting outside of Gov. Greg Abbott’s mansion in Austin. 

Carrying signs with phrases like “Inmates’ Lives Matter,” the family members demanded that Gov. Abbot reduce the state prison population by releasing those eligible and approved for parole. They also called for an improvement of prison conditions, particularly in units under lockdown. 

“We’re asking that the parole-eligible are released because of the conditions in there,” said Nia Trent, 29, who helped organize the rally. “There’s a shortage of food and water, and you can’t practice social distancing with so many people in there.” 

State prisons have seen a growing number of COVID-19 cases over the past several weeks as testing has amplified. According to the latest statistics from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, updated on Tuesday, 3,907 offenders and 807 employees and contract staff have tested positive for COVID-19. In addition, 36 offender deaths and 22 employee line of duty deaths from COVID-19 have been reported.  

Earlier this month, TDCJ announced that it was expanding testing among the state’s prison population. The state spent $45 million on 300,000 new coronavirus tests, the Texas Tribune reported. The tests were purchased from Curative, a California-based company, and are oral swabs administered by patients themselves. 

While some people have praised the state for this rapid increase in testing in prisons, those with family members under lockdown in prison are saying there is still work to be done. 

“This has to be an ongoing effort,” says Trent, whose husband is currently behind bars. ”Now people are getting the message and realizing that this is really a serious issue.

Trent said she and other advocates are tentatively planning another rally for June 20. 

Photo: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images

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