SHAUN KING: The United States is the Only Nation in the World with 250% More Prison Cells Than Hospital Beds

Shaun King
Mar 30, 2020 - 11:59

Here we are. With 150,000 cases and growing, the United States is now the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. We now have 50,000 more cases than the next country. We have nearly twice as many cases as China. And the truth of who and what this nation truly is, and isn’t, has been fully laid to bare. The emperor has no clothes. Our nation is butt naked on the world stage. 

It did not have to be this way. The United States is the only developed nation in the world without mandatory paid sick leave for workers and families — so in this country, sick people just keep on going to work because they have to. The United States is the only developed nation in the world without universal healthcare — so in this country, we’ve already had multiple people die because they were either denied care or were simply too afraid of how much it was going to cost. 

None of this is random and I want to encourage you to not say that our systems are broken. They aren’t broken. That suggests that they were well designed and well built and have somehow deviated from that. That’s not the case — not at all. In fact, every system in this country is functioning exactly how it was built and designed to function. The coronavirus has simply exposed it for what it truly is. 

The United States, from slavery until this very day, has had an absolute addiction to mass incarceration. As a result, the United States is the only nation in the world with 250% more prison cells than hospital beds. With nearly 2.3 million people incarcerated in this country and over 10 million people incarcerated per year, no country in the world — in fact — no country in the history of the world, incarcerates more people than the United States does right now. Right now, the United States has just about 924,100 hospital beds, but nearly 2.6 million prison cells. 

Think about that. It’s an abomination. And as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the country, ravaging jails and prisons, suddenly mayors, judges, sheriffs, and wardens are rushing to get as many people out of jail as possible because they simply can’t handle the pandemic. And as the nation struggles with basic medical supplies from gloves and masks to respirators, and as hospitals are completely overwhelmed, one thing is clear — a nation that has prioritized incarceration at all costs over even a basic level of decency with public health simply cannot handle a pandemic. 

As of yesterday morning, a staggering 253 people at Rikers Correctional Facility in New York have contracted the coronavirus — including 114 staffers. The beds there are just 3-feet apart from each other. The infirmary can only hold 100 people at time. 900 members of the NYPD have the coronavirus. Three officers have already died. No other jails or police forces in the world have these numbers. Again, it’s because our nation has an unhealthy obsession, a complete addiction, to arresting and jailing the largest number of people humanly possible. It’s a national past-time. 

And now that we need hospital beds, supplies, ventilators, paid medical leave, and universal healthcare, we’ve instead got the one thing we don’t need more of right now: prisons full of people. 

——

At the end of each story we publish about the coronavirus, we are now sharing the following information:

Coronavirus 411

Coronavirus, officially named SARS-CoV-2 but also known as COVID-19, is a novel virus that causes a number of respiratory illnesses, including lung lesions and pneumonia. The virus spreads easily from person to person through the air when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. 

COVID-19, which originated in Wuhan, China, has spread to some 177 countries. More than 737,000 people around the world have become infected and more than 35,000 people have died. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic. President Donald Trump declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national emergency on March 13. Less than two weeks later, on March 26, the United States surpassed China in the number of COVID-19 cases. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 can take between two to 14 days to appear. The CDC recommends calling your doctor if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop symptoms, including fever, cough and difficulty breathing. If you also experience persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse and bluish lips or face, seek medical attention immediately. 
In order to keep yourself and others safe, be sure to wash your hands frequently, practice social distancing and avoid touching your face. The CDC is recommending that gatherings of 50 people or more be canceled for the next eight weeks. Click here for information on how to prepare for a quarantine.

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