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Rev. Jesse Jackson urges Trump to test incarcerated for coronavirus, release some who test negative

Rev. Jesse Jackson got the call from Donald Trump Thursday, not long after he sent a letter to the White House.

Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.
Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.
Sun-Times file

The Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke with President Donald Trump Thursday night to ask for COVID-19 testing of more than 2 million incarcerated people in the United States.

During the conversation, which took place by phone, Jackson also urged Trump to consider seeking the release of people who are under pre-trial detention for nonviolent offenses — should they test negative for the virus.

Jackson asked Trump to ensure measures for appropriate distancing be put in place for anyone who tests positive.

“He said he’d take it under serious consideration and he’s very concerned about it and that he’ll get back to me, and I believe that he will,” Jackson told the Chicago Sun-Times Friday.

The call was spurred by a letter Jackson sent earlier this week to the White House in which he wrote: “If one visitor has already transmitted the virus to an inmate, that inmate may have transmitted it to another inmate and that pattern could put many, if not the entire prison population in jeopardy because ‘social distancing’ is not an option for prisoners.”

He concluded the letter by saying: “We need government action in this regard and I’m counting on you to take it.”

A White House spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment.

Here’s the entire letter Jackson wrote to Trump:

Dear Mr. President,

As you are increasingly making clear to the American people, the coronavirus is very serious and spreading quickly around the world and across our country. As this pandemic spreads, you are giving us the proper cooperative and voluntary protocols: stay home, wash your hands often and practice social distancing.

Not everyone can do this. Specifically, I want to raise a concern with you about those who are incarcerated and cannot practice social distancing — i.e., the prison population. In prison there are too many people in proximity to each other who do not have the option of social distancing and there are literally millions of persons incarcerated who were arrested, but not convicted, who are languishing in prison awaiting trial. My concern is specifically with those arrested for non-violent crimes.

If one visitor has already transmitted the virus to an inmate, that inmate may have transmitted it to another inmate and that pattern could put many, if not the entire prison population in jeopardy because “social distancing” is not an option for prisoners. Jail could become an incubator and death sentence for those incarcerated.

I am urging you to consider immediately testing the 2.2 million persons currently incarcerated. They are a captive audience and should not be devoured by the virus should someone in prison have it and spread it. And please consider releasing those arrested for non-violent offenses who are still incarcerated, but not convicted, after they have been tested for the virus so that they do not endanger the health of other inmates or the general public if they are released. We cannot leave those without healthcare to threaten the healthcare of all. Non-violent offenders should be released, monitored and not put the public’s health in jeopardy. We need government action in this regard and I’m counting on you to take it.