As the coronavirus continues to spread through U.S. correctional facilities, more and more political leaders and advocates have called for precautionary measures that would significantly reduce the health risks for inmates and prison staff. Last Prisoner Project—a nonprofit organization dedicated to freeing inmates convicted of nonviolent marijuana crimes—has launched an initiative that aims to slow the spread of COVID-19 within jails and prisons.

"I'm asking you to imagine what it would be like to be a prison cell during the coronavirus," the organization's founder Steve DeAngelo said in a video. "If you're like me, you'd been running around trying to bring everything under control ... food and supplies and checking on your family and [social] distancing. When you're locked up in a cell, you can't do any of that. You are powerless. You have no control over your food, over your social distance, even over the air you breathe. And already, the coronavirus is in prisons. We need to stop that."

DeAngelo is calling on the public to contact their local officials and urge them to take steps that would mitigate the effects of the disease inside correctional facilities. The organization's demands include: the suspension of inmates' copays for medical visits, ensuring free access to communication devices during lockdowns, granting parole to prisoners over the age of 65, and releasing all cannabis prisoners. It's estimated around 40,000 people are behind bars for cannabis-related offenses.

"There are 2.3 million people in the United States in prison. And the very best way to cut that down immediately will be to release every single person who is in there on cannabis charges, since it never should've been a crime in the first place." DeAngelo explained. "I'm pissed off, I'm scared. So please pick up the phone, use your email, get in touch with your governor, get in touch with your mayor, get in touch with your department of corrections, and urge them to immediately take these basic, simple humanitarian steps to help our sisters and brothers who are not in a position to be able to help themselves."

You can learn more about the Last Prisoner Project and its COVID-19 relief efforts here, and sign the petition here that calls on the president and federal authorities to take action.

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