• Emily Zhang

The Irony of Anti-Lockdown Protests

Despite being a small subset of the population, anti-lockdown protestors have made extreme statements garnering national attention. Protestors in states like Wisconsin have demanded that their governors lift restrictions on stay-at-home orders, arguing that these policies infringe on individual freedoms. Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley went even further by equating stay-at-home orders to Japanese internment during WWII. She wrote,

“We mention cases like Korematsu [the U.S. Supreme Court ruling which upheld Japanese incarceration] in order to test the limits of government authority, to remind the state that urging courts to approve the exercise of extraordinary power during times of emergency may lead to extraordinary abuses of its citizens.”

Social Distancing & Solitary Confinement

The language used to compare COVID-19 lockdown orders to incarceration is not only insensitive, but exposes our nation’s hypocritical actions. While many still have the privilege of going outside despite stay-at-home orders, some correctional facilities have resorted to solitary confinement in an effort to implement social distancing measures. In an interview with WUWM Milwaukee 89.7, an inmate from one of Wisconsin's minimum security prisons disclosed that “officers have been threatening solitary confinement at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility if [inmates] display COVID-19 symptoms or express frustration with lack of sanitary conditions in prison.” In 2020 America, we have part of the population upset that non-essential businesses are shut down, while another part loses access to any view of the sky as punishment for catching a contagious virus.

What Else Can They Do?

There exists a fine line between measures to quarantine inmates and solitary confinement. Using punitive isolation methods may only worsen the COVID-19 crisis behind bars, as experts theorize that inmates may hide symptoms out of fear of being placed in restrictive housing. In his brief, David Cloud distinguishes between solitary confinement versus medical isolation, noting that medical isolation protects inmates’ rights to medical staff, mental health staff, phone calls, and transparency with correctional staff.

Source: Cloud, D., Augustine, D., Ahalt, C., & Williams, B. (2020). The ethical use of medical isolation – not solitary confinement – to reduce COVID-19 transmission in correctional settings. Amend: Changing Correctional Culture.

If correctional facilities do not have sufficient healthcare resources to immediately implement medical isolation, it is essential that staff transparently update inmates about efforts taken to contain the virus within the facility. The ultimate goal of medical isolation is to promote the safety and well-being of incarcerated people; it is essential that correctional staff do not lose sight of these goals and act with integrity as they navigate the challenges of COVID-19 behind bars.

People’s outrage and discomfort with quarantine practices stands as a testament against solitary confinement, which permits inmates to be held in elevator-sized cells for 22 to 24 hours per day. This unethical, expensive, and ineffective practice is not a morally justifiable punishment, let alone a medical response to COVID-19. The rest of us have the comfort of knowing we can access medical care if we get sick, while prisoners are punished without sufficient medical treatment for getting an illness beyond their control. Having to forgo social gatherings and haircuts does not remotely compare to being banished to an elevator for weeks with no access to sunlight or connection to loved ones. If anything, the public’s opposition to enduring minimal constraints demonstrates that punitive isolation should not even be fathomable, so why are we complacent with correctional facilities using this practice?

Those who oppose stay-at-home orders fearing incursions on freedom, liberty, and autonomy should channel their energy instead into fighting for incarcerated people who do not have these privileges. No matter how distant incarcerated people seem to be from us, we must recognize the humanity in others— no human deserves to be unjustly confined.

Emily Zhang is a third year student at Boston College double majoring in Applied Psychology & Human Development and Communication. As an op-ed writer at Multiplicity, her research focuses on the legal system and criminal justice reform.


  • Casella, J., & Quandt, K. R. (2020, April 10). Prisons' use of solitary confinement explodes with the COVID-19 pandemic, while advocates push for alternatives. Retrieved from https://solitarywatch.org/2020/04/10/prisons-use-of-solitary-confinement-explodes-with-the-covid-19-pandemic-while-advocates-push-for-alternatives/

  • Cloud, D., Augustine, D., Ahalt, C., & Williams, B. (2020). The ethical use of medical isolation – not solitary confinement – to reduce COVID-19 transmission in correctional settings. Amend: Changing Correctional Culture.

  • Daly, D. (2020, May 4). What are the 'reopen' protesters really saying? Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/what-are-the-reopen-protesters-really-saying-137558

  • Fang, M. (2020, May 14). Wisconsin judge equates stay-at-home order to Japanese American concentration camps. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/stay-at-home-orders-are-not-japanese-american-concentration-camps_n_5ebd2ba3c5b60cfcd67f221e?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000098&fbclid=IwAR01LCURFIqFQ7XjXTCQmUQD3NDdi3t7yPG4vWqtHkhIiUBlBJZQi7McYS4

  • Hayda, J. (2020, April 24). Underwear masks, mandatory work, and solitary confinement: Wisconsin inmates under coronavirus. Retrieved from https://www.wuwm.com/post/underwear-masks-mandatory-work-and-solitary-confinement-wisconsin-inmates-under-coronavirus#stream/0

  • Korematsu v. United States. (n.d.). Oyez. Retrieved May 24, 2020, from https://www.oyez.org/cases/1940-1955/323us214

  • Wykstra, S. (2019, April 17). The case against solitary confinement. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/4/17/18305109/solitary-confinement-prison-criminal-justice-reform

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