Next Possible Epicenter for Virus: America's Prisons

Correctional facilities 'completely unequipped' to handle pandemic, one ex-NYC official says
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 28, 2020 9:00 AM CDT
Next Possible Epicenter for Virus: America's Prisons
In this March 16, 2011, file photo, a security fence surrounds inmate housing at the Rikers Island correctional facility in New York.   (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

The next potential epicenter for America's coronavirus pandemic: prisons and jails, per health experts. They're little cities hidden behind tall fences where many people share cells, sit elbow-to-elbow in dining areas, and are herded through halls to the yard or prison industry jobs. They say it's nearly impossible to keep 6 feet away from anyone, adding to tensions, per the AP. Medical services behind bars have long been substandard, and even hand sanitizer is considered contraband in some facilities due to its alcohol content. More than 2.2 million people are incarcerated in the US—more than anywhere else in the world. But the threat posed by COVID-19 behind bars extends well beyond prison walls. Even though most personal visits have been stopped, hundreds of thousands of guards, wardens, and other correctional facility administrators go in and out 24 hours a day, potentially carrying the virus home to their families and communities.

Jail and prison workers are also the ones most likely to bring the virus into overflowing facilities already grappling with older men and women, those suffering from chronic health conditions, and the mentally ill. The first positive tests from inside US correctional facilities started trickling out two weeks ago, with more than 300 cases now confirmed in New York, California, Michigan, Alabama, and a dozen other states. Most of the cases so far have been reported from New York City, with the Department of Corrections saying Tuesday that 80 staff and 103 men in custody have tested positive at Rikers Island and city jails alone—quadruple what was reported just a week ago. "America's 7,000 jails, prisons, juvenile, and immigration detention centers are completely unequipped to handle this pandemic," an ex-chief medical officer of the New York City jail system says. Much more here.

(Read more coronavirus stories.)

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