Prison advocates in a phone campaign warn the coronavirus could deliver a death sentence for non-violent criminals.
The REFORM Alliance campaign, publicized by rapper Meek Mill, shares stories from inmates, including two from Florida prisons.
The “Answer The Call” campaign sounds alarms on the havoc COVID-19 can wreak on closed prison populations. The REFORM Alliance already aims to increase empathy for America’s 2.3 million incarcerated, but the pandemic adds urgency to that mission.
It’s a problem too familiar in Florida. Last week, the Florida Department of Corrections revealed about six out of 10 inmates tested were positive for COVID-19 at Sumter Correctional Institution and Tomoka Correctional Institution. At Tomoka, 129 prisoners and 12 staff members tested positive, while in Sumter, 89 inmates and nine employees contracted the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Over the past month, the REFORM Alliance has interviewed inmates in prisons across the country. The testimonials will be featured first in a phone campaign.
“Every time i talk to my girls or my family,” says Adrian R., a New York inmate, “I talk to them like it’s the last time I’m ever going to speak to them again.”
REFORM Alliance officials said none of the comments from prisoners were scripted.
Mill shared a hotline number, (833) 229-8300, on his social media Tuesday. He and hip hop mogul Jay-Z were both on hand last year for the launch of the REFORM Alliance, which supports reductions in unjust prison sentences.
The group released a plan in March for limiting the spread of COVID-19 in Florida’s prisons that included suspending probation visits and alternatives to incarcerations.
Callers will be connected to recorded stories from inmates concerned about their personal health and prison conditions. Afterward, callers will receive a text with a call to action.
Throughout the week, other partners for the REFORM Alliance will also drop numbers, flooding social media feeds with the message using the hashtag #AnswerTheirCall.
Audio files will live on the REFORM Alliance’s social media channels.
Next week the group plans to release a video ad, “When It’s All Over.”