COVID-19 has changed the perspective of human interaction as it has now become the most contagious and deadly virus. It had led the entire world to follow social distancing, working on personal hygiene and avoiding public gatherings. In addition to the local populations, this risk is highest for nearly 2 million prisoners in local, state level and federal jails.
Martha Henderson Hurley, director at the Criminal Justice Studies Program at the University of Dayton has shared some concerns about jail prisoners during this COVID-19 pandemic.
Prisoners are at high risk
U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has shared a high risk of infections and deaths in elderly patients and those with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, allergies and blood pressure problems. It has also suggested all senior citizens take more care of their health and notice if any unusual symptom shows up. Some older adults are also in jails where they have limited access to healthcare. In addition to that, the jail experience negatively affects their mental health and might lead to emotional distress. Consequently, it puts all prisoners above 50 years of age at high risk of COVID-19.
The only way to control the spread of coronavirus, for now, is “social distancing”. This distancing accounts for at least 6 feet distance to be maintained from other people in any gathering. While it is practical in most public places, it can’t be maintained in jails. All these prisoners live, work, eat, and sleep together. Even the shower in communal baths as well. Secondly, jails are overcrowded which reduces the parameter of social distancing, even more, making all prisoners an easy target of COVID-19.
Last week, a leading newspaper reported 1,324 confirmed coronavirus cases linked with jails. While the Cook County Jail (Chicago) reported 238 prisoners and 115 staff members as coronavirus positive. After five days, a total number of 306 prisoners and 218 staff members were confirmed positive.
Unlike a normal household, the set up of jail is different. They don’t even have direct access to common hygiene products and ingredients such as soaps, sanitizers, and disinfectants to clean their cell. All other areas i.e. bathrooms, cafeteria are shared places where social distancing and access to individual hygiene products is impossible. In addition to that, most of the jails have a poor ventilation system, allowing the coronavirus to spread and infect everyone.
Isolation units in jails and medical facilities
All people who exhibit common COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, cough, etc are advised to immediately get tested and isolate themselves. But this could not be applied behind the bars. Usually, there is always a shortage of healthcare staff in jail along with inadequate medical facilities for inmates. It is almost impossible to make medical isolation wards in jails. So if any prisoner becomes infected, he won’t be isolated and there is a high chance of him spreading it to all others. Among some coronavirus positive inmates, the in-charges correctional officers refused to help and isolate them for treatment. It has brought a rage in inmates and is demanding all necessary medical facilities during this COVID-19 pandemic.