When COVID19 upended our lives, everyone was told to wash their hands with soap and water, use a mask, and practice social distancing. While that has been a huge help to regular citizens with ready access to these resources, this advice is hard to apply in some circumstances.
People in poverty, experiencing homelessness, or in crowded housing spaces don’t always have running water, soap, or the ability to avoid large crowds. Prisons have come under the attention of public health experts and lawmakers who are in charge of harm reduction initiatives.
Here’s what we know about the risks of contracting COVID19 in the prison system:
- In September 2020, CNN reported that prisoners were twice as likely to die upon contracting coronavirus as people who aren’t in the system. Some reasons behind this include the lack of space and resources needed to maintain proper hygiene. At the time of reporting, CNN found that COVID19 rates in prisons was up to four times that of the general population.
- In January 2021, the New York Times reported that prisons in states such as Missouri, Pennsylvania, and even California were considering shutting down certain prisons because there were too many guards contracting COVID19. This made prisons unsafe to operate, and closing or shutting them down would diminish the risk of community spread.
Avenal State Prison in California stands as a glaring example of what can happen in prisons due to under-resourcing and crowded conditions. U.S. News reports that 94% of male inmates contracted COVID19. 8 men passed away due to complications with the virus.
Some men reported that the prison didn’t prepare adequately for the pandemic, and also shut down visitation and other programs that allowed prisoners to maintain a better state of mental health. Situations like these are occurring or have occurred across the country since the advent of COVID19.