Celebrity-backed criminal justice reform group donates 100,000 masks to prisons in wake of coronavirus

A Department of Corrections bus outside Rikes Island prison.

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A criminal justice reform group backed by celebrities and top business executives is giving 100,000 masks to prisons across the country as those incarcerated are impacted by the coronavirus.

New York’s Rikers Island jail will be seeing 50,000 masks from the Reform Alliance, an organization that has advocated for changes to the criminal justice system since 2019, the group announced Friday. Rikers houses 5,000 to 6,000 inmates on a daily basis and has been hit with nearly 200 cases of the coronavirus. 

Shaka Senghor, an author who wrote a memoir about his life that included 19 years in prison, partnered with Reform to help acquire the masks. 

The Federal Bureau of Prisons announced on Tuesday that inmates in all institutions will be kept in their assigned cells for two weeks in an effort to fight the virus. 

Reform Alliance was founded by a group of celebrities and business leaders, including rapper Meek Hill, who was once arrested on gun and drug charges, and musician Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter. Van Jones, a former advisor to President Barack Obama and an advocate for the recently passed First Step Act, is the group’s CEO. Founding partners include New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Third Point CEO Dan Loeb and Robert Smith, CEO of Vista Equity Partners. 

The group advocates for reforming probation and penal codes and for granting clemency. 

Forty-thousand masks are being delivered to the Tennessee Department of Corrections and 5,000 are being sent to the Mississippi State Penitentiary. 

Jessica Jackson, the alliance’s chief advocacy officer, said Senghor assisted in acquiring the masks after receiving an anonymous $100,000 donation that was used to invest into the personal protective equipment. 

“We partnered with Shaka Senghor, who was able to find us an anonymous donor who donated $100,000 to buy the masks,” Jackson said. 

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