Passover and Cook County jail.

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Last night was the first night of Passover.

It is celebration each Spring of the Jews being freed from Egypt 3,000 years ago.

Normally, Jewish families and friends will gather the first night together for a Seder meal.

I am a Jew, but not an observant one. However,  I enjoy my family gatherings and respect the rituals that bring us together.

Last night, like Jews all around the world, I was physically separated from family in the interest of our safety and the safety of others.

We were free to take those precautions to save lives.

Six miles south of where we had dinner last night is Cook County jail.

It is the national epicenter of the coronavirus.

While the rest of us have been warned over and over to stay home and stay separated, prisoners are crammed together.

The Cook County Jail in Chicago, a sprawling facility that is among the largest jails in the nation, has emerged as the largest-known source of U.S. virus infections, according to data compiled by The New York Times.

At least 353 cases can be linked to the jail — more than have been connected to the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt; a nursing home in Kirkland, Wash.; or the cluster centered in New Rochelle, N.Y.

The Cook County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the jail, said 238 inmates and 115 staff members had tested positive as of Wednesday.

The danger this situation poses for inmates, staff and our community has been known for a while.

We talked about it weeks ago.

Since then there has been some progress made, but not enough.

Reports the NY Times:

In Cook County, officials released hundreds of inmates early — all of whom had been convicted of nonviolent crimes like drug possession and disorderly conduct. Judges are continuing to examine the cases of each inmate to determine if bonds can be lowered for certain people. That would allow dozens, perhaps hundreds, more people to be released, officials say.

But the over all situation remains grim.

Hundreds of diagnoses have been confirmed at local, state and federal correctional facilities — almost certainly an undercount, given a lack of testing and rapid spread — leading to hunger strikes in immigrant detention centers and demands for more protection from prison employee unions.

Last night we chose to have dinner separated from others for our own safety and the safety of others.

Yet overcrowded and unsanitary jails and prisons continue as a major source of the spread.

Those who are incarcerated in jails and prisons around the country deserve the same human right to safety as the rest of us. Many are incarcerated even though they have not been found guilty of any crime.

They are just too poor to afford bail.

That should not be a death sentence.


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