Photo provided by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

Some states may have flattened the curve in the past months, but prisons are grappling with the challenges of close quarters and overcrowding. The five largest known clusters of COVID-19 in the U.S. have been inside correctional facilities, according to the New York Times. 

Jails are most at-risk because people frequently pass through the facilities while awaiting sentencing, which spreads the virus to the community more easily than a prison, which houses long-term inmates. In recent weeks, police use of ‘kettling,’ or pushing protestors into small spaces to make arrests, has made social distancing difficult to maintain and may further exacerbate the spread of COVID-19.

Oregon, facing 170 infections and 1 death within its prison system, moved to release inmates based on different categories such as the amount of time served, type of conviction, and underlying health conditions. Governor Kate Brown hoped to release 100 inmates, but the Oregon Legislature is pushing for 2,000 inmates to be released over the next few months. In New York, only 3% of the total prison population has been tested for the coronavirus. The New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision claims the low test rate matches their effective efforts at containing the virus.

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

Coronavirus Cases Rise Sharply in Prisons Even as They Plateau Nationwide – New York Times – 6/16/2020
As the toll in prisons has increased, so has fear among inmates who say the authorities have done too little to protect them. There have been riots and hunger strikes in correctional facilities from Washington State to New York. And even the known case numbers are likely a significant undercount because testing has been extremely limited inside prisons and because some places that test do not release the results to the public.“It’s like a sword hanging over my head,” said Fred Roehler, 77, an inmate at a California prison who has chronic inflammatory lung disease and other respiratory ailments.

Report: Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons Spiked by 500 Percent When Coronavirus Hit – Reason – 6/15/2020
At least 300,000 people have been put in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails since COVID-19 reached American shores, an increase of nearly 500 percent over pre-pandemic levels…The number of people held in solitary confinement—that is, confined to their cell for 22 to 24 hours a day—on any given day across U.S. prisons and jails has been declining over the past decade as states have slowly limited the practice. Prior to COVID-19, the daily number sat around 60,000 people, according to conservative estimates.

Is COVID-19 Falling Harder on Black Prisoners? Officials Won’t Tell Us. – The Marshall Project – 5/28/2020
Monik Jiménez, an epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, called the failure to capture this data “another form of structural racism.” Without such breakdowns, she explained, officials are unable to plan or to find “culturally relevant interventions” such as Spanish-language education on social distancing. They also can’t respond to higher rates of pre-existing health conditions among black prisoners, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

Hawaii re-arrests 47 inmates released earlier because of coronavirus fears – Fox News – 5/21/2020
Prosecutor Dwight Nadamoto says those sprung from jail under court orders included violent offenders. […] And despite the coronavirus being a motivating factor in securing their release, there has yet to be a confirmed case of it within Hawaii’s prison system, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

Tony Plohetski on Twitter, 6/16/2020: JUST IN: Gov. Greg Abbott says as we look at growing numbers of COVID-19 statewide, many have explanations, including prison/jail outbreaks.

VTDigger on Twitter, 6/16/2020: With all prisoners in Vermont’s six correctional facilities having been tested for the coronavirus, black inmates make up eight of the 45 positive test results, or nearly 18 percent.

ACLU on Twitter, 6/16/2020: Last week, at least 43,967 people in prison had tested positive for COVID-19. That’s an 8 percent increase from the week before. We must not forget about the people who are incarcerated around the country during this pandemic.

KULR-8 News on Twitter, 6/16/2020: The Montana Department of Corrections says testing confirms there is no outbreak of COVID-19 at the Montana Women’s Prison in Billings. 

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