Legal Briefs Podcast #4: A Conversation with The Marshall Project’s Keri Blakinger and COVID-19’s Impact

Contributing Author: National District Attorneys Association

Photo credit: MivPiv/iStock (Getty Images)

Every now and then, you get the pleasure of running into a criminal justice reporter who actually has the experience to report from the prisoners’ perspective. Earlier this week, Legal Briefs had the privilege of speaking with one of them: Keri Blakinger, currently a writer at The Marshall Project, and most recently at the Houston Chronicle covering criminal justice and the death penalty. Prior to her career in journalism, she spent two years behind bars at a New York prison. She spoke with us about her experience, and both how COVID-19 has impacted prisons and jails in the short-term as well as how the virus will impact the system in the years that lay ahead.

Keri Blakinger was arrested and sent to prison during her senior year at Cornell University. Her incarceration paved the way for her to become a journalist. Keri learned many lessons coming out of prison, although she says many of the lessons learned were not the lessons that prison is intended to teach. They are lessons that come with the ills of prison and these experiences stick with the formerly incarcerated forever. Some of the lessons are causing former inmates to struggle with the current coronavirus pandemic, such as with shelter-in-place orders.

In addition to sharing her experience as a prisoner-turned-journalist, Keri tells Legal Briefs how COVID-19 is becoming a catastrophe for the prison system. “A lot of basic disease prevention measures are not possible. You can’t do social distancing,” she says. Prison populations contain large numbers of inmates with medical conditions such as diabetes, HIV, and asthma, among other ailments, and many of the prisoners are older and serving out long sentences. “These are the demographics that are particularly vulnerable to something like coronavirus,” Keri says. Prison staff and officers also routinely come and go between work and home, and are at higher risk to contract the disease and share it with family or fellow colleagues and prisoners.

Download and listen to our latest episode of Legal Briefs with Keri Blakinger to hear more details of what it’s like to be incarcerated and how COVID-19 is the new reality for prisons across America. She’ll also answer questions about what mass incarceration, bond reform, visitation, and programming might look like post-coronavirus. Keri is an authentic voice on what it’s like to be inside the prison system.