The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the whole world by storms with more than two million persons infected, and more than 100,000 dead. The novel coronavirus has spread through the world at unprecedented speeds spread through human to human contact. The virus spreads through fluids released during coughing and sneezing. These microparticles then spread to other surfaces where they are spread through touch from one person to another. The virus can survive for hours in the air, and on solid surfaces such as metals and plastics for days. The highly contagious nature of the virus makes jails and prisons high-risk areas of exposure as inmates live in cramped conditions. As there is currently no cure for the coronavirus, the best way to deal with the pandemic is to avoid spread from human to human. Quarantines and lockdowns have thus been instituted in most parts of the world. However, one major area of concern is the incarcerated population, and the government has taken some steps, such as releasing nonviolent petty offenders, delaying sentences, house arrests, among others.
The United States has more than 2.3 million people incarcerated, and this population is especially vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus. In many jails, inmates live in crowded conditions where it is hard to maintain high standards of hygiene. In addition to this, it is almost impossible to enforce social distancing rules in prisons. Reuters carried out a spot check on prisons across the US to find out how inmates were being protected from the virus. By the 28th of March, 2020, the city of New York had reported 132 and 104 cases of COVID-19 among inmates and staff respectively (Parker et al. 1). Unfortunately, the prisons had done little to protect inmates, leaving the vulnerable prisoners asking for more to be done to protect them. Calls to depopulate prions and take adequate measures to protect the prisons population have come from public defenders prosecutors, prisoners, local officials and human rights activists.
Some prisons across the country have taken steps to decongest the prisons and curb the spread of the virus. For example, Reuters reports that New York City’s Board of Correction has identified more than 2000 inmates eligible for release (Parker et al. 1). However, one point of concern is that inmates are released into the population without testing, and this could mean they are spreading the virus into the public. Other measures that have been implanted to protect those in prisons include early releases for those whose sentences are almost complete, and house arrests where possible. Prions such as those in New York City have stepped up hygiene measures such as providing soap for hand washing and masks in places where someone tested positive for COVID-19.
Another article titled ‘Flattening the Curve for Incarcerated Populations — Covid-19 in Jails and Prisons’ addresses the issue of protecting inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic. The article explores some of the factors that expose inmates to the most devastating consequences of the pandemic. Most of those incarcerated come from demographics that are high-risk for the COVID-19 pandemic. They come from minority groups, those living in poverty, those with underlying health conditions, and those with unstable housing. The COVID-19 pandemic has been found to hit the elderly population the hardest, and this presents concern as roughly 86000 persons in jails and prisons are aged 60 or older (Akiyama, et al. 3). Additionally, more than half of all inmates have a chronic underlying illness. Social distancing measures to try and curb the spread of the virus are almost impossible to institute in prisons. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront the vulnerable position of inmates, and the government has done little or nothing to protect them from the coronavirus.
In November of 2002, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome spread across the world from China. The disease is quite similar to COVID-19 and presented the same challenge for the prison population. Luckily, the epidemic was not as severe as the 2019 coronavirus. At the time, the prison system instituted several measures to keep prisoners safe from the virus. Examples of the measures included the identification of probable infected persons from their travel and contact history (Bick 2). Those arrested were not allowed to mingle with the general prisons population until they were cleared. Additionally, the prisons isolated any person suspected to be infected with SARS, and the impact on the prisons population proved minimal.
The government needs to step up its efforts to protect incarcerated persons from infectious diseases such as SARS and the current COVID-19. Although some state and federal prions have stepped up their efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus in prisons, they need to do far more. All prisoners who can serve their term in alternative locations such as house arrests should be released, as should those serving sort sentences for petty, nonviolent offences. Jails and prisoners are a disaster waiting to happen, judging from the ay the virus has already ravaged populations across the world. Prisoners are at an even higher risk of contracting the virus due to various factors. The current pandemic gives the government a chance to depopulate prisons, most of which are filled with inmates who can pay for their crimes in different ways. Prisoners should not be treated like an afterthought simply because they broke the law. Just as the government has made efforts to protect the general public, it should also protect prisoners by providing masks, releasing those who can be released such as the sickly and elderly, and isolating the sick.
Akiyama, Matthew J. et al. “Flattening the Curve for Incarcerated Populations — Covid-19 in Jails and Prisons.” The New England Journal of Medicine. 2 April 2020. www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2005687Bick, Joseph A. “Infection Control in Jails and Prisons.” Infectious Diseases Society of America. 15 October 2007. academic.oup.com/cid/article/45/8/1047/344842Parker, Ned et al. “Spread of coronavirus accelerates in U.S. jails and prisons.” Reuters. 28 March 2020. www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-inmates-insigh/spread-of-coronavirus-accelerates-in-us-jails-and-prisons-idUSKBN21F0TM