Great article by senior reporter Brendan Cole for Newsweek reports that crowded cells in jails across the U.S. could help the rapid spread of Coronavirus. Top Democratic senators have accordingly asked prison authorities to reveal what contingency plans there are to tackle any outbreak.
According to the article, The Sentencing Project has called on public officials to release people in jail who do not pose a public safety risk. This jail population includes those housed in pre-trial detention or rehabilitated people.
“Existing unsanitary and overcrowded prison and jail conditions will exacerbate the spread of the new coronavirus . . . Elderly incarcerated people often pose little public safety risk but disproportionately suffer from chronic medical conditions and thus are at the highest risk of dying from COVID-19.” ~The Sentencing Project senior research analyst Nazgol Ghandnoosh
Ghandnoosh emphasized that time is of the essence to avert a public health catastrophe in the United States’ prisons and jails.
The sentiment echoes concerns voiced by other prisoners’ rights advocates, who fear the implications the virus will have for the 2.2 million people living in the U.S. penal system.
Last week, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers president Nina Ginsberg said in a statement that, given the spread of the virus: “There is every reason to question whether American detention facilities, as a whole, are up to this challenge.”
Meanwhile, Maria Morris of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) National Prison Project wrote in an op-ed this week that jails were not closed environments, and had staff and visitors coming into the facilities and returning home, posing a considerable risk.
Also, top Democrats signed a letter asking the Federal Bureau of Prisons about its coronavirus plans. presidential contender Senator Bernie Sanders, and former primary candidates Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren were among the signees. The letter, which was also addressed to prison operators GEO Group, CoreCivic, and Management and Training Corporation, asked if staff and inmates who may be vulnerable have been identified, how they will be treated if they test positive and how staff shortages caused by the virus will be dealt with.
My opinion? Kudos to those involved in these efforts. Protecting incarcerated people during a contagious health crisis by expediting releases would reduce the burden on prison staff. It would also reduce demand for limited hospital resources which are shared with the broader public.