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COVID-19 in Prisons

via USA Today

For some, ending 2021 will be a relief but for others, it will just be a repeat of the last year. As we conclude the year, a new variant of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread. On November 26, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recognized the Omicron variant in South Africa and alerted the world. Backtracking exactly 1 year and 9 months ago, March 11th, 2020, the CDC declared the COVID-19 outbreak a worldwide pandemic. Since then, we are still suffering in various ways. As of December 29th, 2021, there have been more than 280 million reported cases of COVID-19 and more than 5 million deaths caused by this virus.


With the spread of COVID-19, there have been many ways to practice caution and lessen transmission. Frequently washing your hands, wearing a mask, getting vaccinated, social distancing, and avoiding large crowds are ways to help prevent getting the virus and minimize the spread of it. Those who are incarcerated don’t have the same luxuries as people who are fortunate enough to live in homes. Prison conditions have always been unhygienic and cramped but in the present day, there is COVID-19 within the living spaces. With nearly 2 million people in United States prisons, the dangers of the virus are very life-threatening. Some may ask, “Why can’t those who are incarcerated just get vaccinated or wear masks if they can’t socially distance themselves?” Well, those who would be giving those vaccines and masks aren’t there! Prison staff have been refusing to show up to prisons because they feel unsafe from the violence by inmates and are afraid of getting COVID-19. Those who do show up refuse to get the vaccine because they are afraid of the side effects of it. 


A few months into the pandemic, incarceration rates started to decrease. More than 100,000 individuals were let out of prisons causing an 8 percent decrease in incarceration rates. But for those who were in prisons, how were they supposed to protect themselves? Here are some important updates on the management of COVID-19 within prisons in the United States:

  • March 31, 2020 - The Bureau of Prisons announced that those in prisons would have to quarantine for two weeks.
  • April 5, 2020 - The Bureau of Prisons issued an update to the confinement policy which allowed confinement at home.
  • April 20, 2020 - Criteria for early release was changed. Officials were no longer allowing inmates who have served less than half their sentence to be released.
  • April 23, 2020 - The Trump administration changed the criteria for early release. Inmates who have served at least 25 percent of their sentence or have less than 18 months remaining would be able to leave. 
  • March 16, 2021 - Staff in US prisons were refusing the Covid-19 vaccine. 
  • June 30, 2021 - Half-million incarcerated got Covid-19. 


The picture is a cell from Rikers Island via New York Post. 


Rikers Island, a prison in New York, is severely suffering from COVID-19. Rikers Island supports 10,000 inmates daily. The prison is so overcrowded that there are up to 15+ inmates in one cell. The prison reported a 17 percent increase in COVID-19 cases sometime last week. Reports indicate that the United States has the most incarcerated people across the whole world and that most are convicted for drug offenses. To prevent the increase of cases of COVID-19 and deaths by COVID-19 or by any disease/viruses in prisons and jails, law enforcement should stop arresting drug users, courts should not delay anyone’s trials, and the Department of Health should get involved and implement health policies. By law enforcement arresting drug users, it increases the number of inmates in the prisons. By courts delaying inmates’ trials, it increases an inmate’s stay time and leads to more people coming into prisons rather than leaving, ultimately leading to overpopulation. 


Reportedly as of November 30, 2021, there have been 440,000+ cases and 2,600+ deaths amongst incarcerated due to COVID-19 as well as 120,000+ cases and 200+ deaths amongst staff. Thankfully, 500,000+ incarcerated people have received at least one dose of a vaccine and over 126,000 staff members have received one dose. Hopefully, in 2022 health conditions will improve within federal prisons in the US prison to help stop the spread of many dangerous and life-threatening viruses and diseases.

Featured Image via Grant Durr


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