COVID-19 in Jails and Prisons

In the early months of the pandemic, the effects were terrible and drastic, wiping out almost everything in its path. This was also because next to nothing was known about the virus. The CDC and WHO advised several precautionary and prevention methods to help reduce the spread and infection, this included handwashing and/or use of sanitizers as often as possible.

As easy and simple as these tactics sounded at the time, individuals in prisons did not have the luxury of regular hand washing or access to sanitizers, and many of them had existing health conditions, furthermore, the health care systems in these places were limited, so utilizing basic protocols would be a stretch.

An interesting case at the time, Ex Parte: Matthew Gonzalez, who was arrested for murder and released on a pretrial bond payment of $200,000 in 2019. In March 2020, he was indicted for murder and the bond increased to $500,000, he surrendered himself and was taken into custody. Later in the same month, he filed a writ application for reinstatement of previous bond amount or release on recognizance due to the jail’s inability to put in place required COVID-19 precaution and treatment systems. He cited the CDC’s guidelines and insisted that county jail was in direct violation of these guidelines and would foster a quick spread of the virus. This writ was denied, however, it brought to limelight concerns about the system in Prisons, Jails, and dealing with COVID-19.

The CDC advised:

  • Staff should stay home once ill
  • Identifying locations that can be used for isolation before the need for it
  • Providing enough supply of cleaning and medical items
  • Setting up systems for the safe transfer of individuals between facilities
  • To utilize a 14 day quarantine period where necessary

The Federal Bureau of Prisons previously released a guide suspending social and legal visits for a while, limiting staff travel and additional screening for the disease. Other methods in use to reduce spread are

  • Limiting the number of new inmates
  • Sending inmates with low threat possibility to a public safety home
  • Balancing concerns about security with ensuring adequate support to keep prisoners safe.

Ways to support locked up individuals include

  • Sign a petition to advocate for better health care for the inmates
  • Donate to a community fund used for bailout purposes
  • Advocate for inmates to be able to call their families and advocates for free during this phase.
  • Send a letter to the President, Governor, and people in authority to release the elderly, those with a medical condition, and those with a year or less in their sentence to reduce the population of inmates.
  • Find out more information and share awareness

This way, everyone can play a small role to help incarcerated individuals.

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