North Texas Daily

Inmates have been forgotten amid COVID-19 pandemic

Inmates have been forgotten amid COVID-19 pandemic

Inmates have been forgotten amid COVID-19 pandemic
July 21
19:38 2020

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise throughout the country, one of the forgotten groups amid the pandemic has been inmates that are incarcerated in prisons and jails. Inmates are also one of the many groups of people who are at higher risk of being exposed and contracting the virus. 

Prisons and jails are highly unsanitary. Most correctional facilities also do not allow hygiene products. This is due to the fact that inmates can separate the alcohol from things like hand sanitizer and use that alcohol for consumption. Correctional facilities are prime areas in which HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases can flourish due to the overcrowding population. This can serve as an example of how dangerous the issue of COVID-19 infecting inmates can be. 

Correctional facilities also lack the appropriate space to practice social distancing. In some prisons, there are as many as two to three people in a cell. This is due to overcrowding in prisons and the practice of mass incarceration held in the United States. Social distancing cannot take place when there are three people locked in a cell at all times. Overcrowding of prisons makes it difficult to control and track the spread of COVID-19 since correctional officers are coming and going every day. It makes it even more difficult to control the spread when the majority of inmates are asymptomatic in some correctional facilities. This was the case in Ohio in which 2,028 out of the 2,500 inmates this correctional institution houses, tested positive for COVID-19. 

Another issue is the lack of testing that is occurring. Having the opportunity to get tested is significantly lower for those who are incarcerated in comparison to those who are not. New York, Texas and Florida are only testing inmates who present symptoms. This shows how vastly prisons are undercounting the actual COVID-19 cases that may be present. Most wardens are trying to place individuals in solitary confinement, however, this is also not an effective method in controlling the disproportionate spread of COVID-19. 

Solitary confinement presents mental health issues among inmates and still does not change the unsanitary conditions within the correctional facility. Many correctional facilities have also gone under complete lockdown. This means that inmates are not allowed visitors and are also not allowed outside of their cells. 

Inmates also account for many individuals who are considered “at-risk.” Many individuals suffer from cardiovascular issues and pre-existing conditions, while others develop health issues during their time incarcerated. Many inmates are also at risk of contracting the virus due to their old age. More than 200,000 inmates are 55 years or older, according to the Bureau of Justice. Those a part of this demographic are usually granted “compassionate release,” which means they are released if they have fallen ill. However, many wardens are not giving inmates of an older age compassionate release. 

In fact, many wardens have delayed giving any inmates release during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are concerns about the dangers that releasing inmates back to society presents, however, it is more dangerous to keep offenders incarcerated when they can be released under certain supervision or be granted early release. Wardens should be taking advantage and releasing those who have committed low-level crimes and those who are above 55 years old. For those who have committed white-collar crimes, wardens should grant furlough and have them come back to the facility they are incarcerated in once COVID-19 is more controlled. 

By granting early release or furlough to these individuals it is contributing to stopping the amount of traffic flow and contact correctional guards and inmates have with each other. It also makes it easier and more accessible to test inmates. If wardens do not take quick action soon, the spread of COVID-19 will present extreme dangers to thousands of people. If the United States did not overcrowd its prisons and jails, COVID-19 would not be spreading at rapid rates among these facilities. Inmates are human beings who should not be denied the chance to proper care and action during this pandemic.  

Featured Illustration: Austin Banzon

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Eunice Hernandez

Eunice Hernandez

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