Meek Mill, Jay-Z's criminal justice organization ramps up efforts to protect prisoners amid coronavirus threat

The group will send 50,000 masks to Rikers Island, which has over 200 cases.

April 3, 2020, 7:01 AM

The criminal justice reform organization founded by rappers Meek Mill and Jay-Z is sending personal protective equipment to prisons as cases of inmates testing positive for the novel coronavirus surge in various correctional facilities across the country.

REFORM Alliance joined forces with advocate Shaka Senghor to send about 100,000 surgical masks to various prisons as states suffer from a shortage of medical supplies to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meek Mill, who has been tweeting about the COVID-19 crisis and urging fans to stay home, launched the organization in January 2019 after his own experiences in the criminal justice system ignited a movement.

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Rikers Island will receive 50,000 masks and an additional 2,500 masks are being sent to the Rikers medical facility.

Rikers is one of the largest prison complexes in the world and has suffered from a surge of cases in New York, which has become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

PHOTO: The Rikers Island jail complex stands in New York with the Manhattan skyline in the background, June 20, 2014.
The Rikers Island jail complex stands in New York with the Manhattan skyline in the background, June 20, 2014.
Seth Wenig/AP, FILE

According to The Legal Aid Society, which is tracking COVID-19 cases in New York jails, there were more than 200 positive cases of COVID-19 in Rikers Island facilities as of Thursday.

The Tennessee Department of Corrections will be sent 40,000 masks, which will be distributed to correctional facilities in the state impacted by the crisis.

The rest of the masks will be sent to the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman, Mississippi, which was sued earlier this year by Jay-Z and fellow hip-hop artist Yo Gotti over "barbaric" conditions that allegedly led to deaths of multiple inmates.

Correctional facilities, where inmates are often crowded into small spaces and share facilities that make social distancing incredibly challenging, are particularly susceptible to the outbreak and hundreds of inmates and prison personnel have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Most recently, four inmates died after testing positive for the coronavirus at FCI Oakdale federal prison in Louisiana over the span of five days, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Last week, REFORM Alliance released the "SAFER Plan" -- a set of recommendations based on consultations and the advice of medical experts and prison reform advocates from across the political spectrum -- to protect prisoners during the pandemic.

"We are on the verge of a humanitarian crisis," Jessica Jackson, chief political officer at REFORM Alliance, said in a statement to ABC News. "There are horror stories coming from people in jails and prisons across the country. REFORM Alliance is seeking help to get medical supplies into correctional facilities, and we're also pushing Governors across the country to enact our SAFER Plan recommendations to get people out quickly and safely."

Both federal and state prisons are facing hurdles in managing the COVID-19 threat as prison officers, guards and inmates test positive for the virus.

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Over the past week, judges around the country ordered thousands of inmates released amid reports of shortages of medical and cleaning supplies.

President Donald Trump criticized the move on Thursday when asked what the federal government is doing to protect inmates.

“We don't like it," he said about prisoners getting released. "The people don't like it and we’re looking to see if I have the right to stop it in some cases."

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