How well is the population within the criminal justice system protected from Covid19? I was asked to ‘do a covid in prison update’ and as I sat down to write I asked myself what does that even mean?
I realized we have jails all over the country: big ones, small ones, holding cells, all kinds of prisons. Prisons for juveniles. Prisons for women. Prisons for men. For profit versus state and federal owned prisons. Not being a lawyer or someone who works in the criminal justice system I had no idea where to begin. And it hit me like a ton of bricks therein lies the problem with our country that there are too many hands in deciding people’s lives when they decide to cross over to the dark side of breaking the law even if the crime is non-violent and more like an oops’. So because this article is not an expose I will try to keep it concise and give a general idea of how our prison population is faring.
Our prison system is a world of its own. There is the federal prison system, which is managed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). Those bars are for people who commit an act rendered illegal by United States legislation. For instance, trying to overthrow the government by storming the Capitol is a federal crime. There’s an exhaustive list of federal crimes to choose from if a plot were needed for the next streaming series: espionage, drugs, child pornography, kidnapping, weapons, forgery, racketeering, perjury, were the usual suspects. It does not matter which state you are in because federal law trumps (no pun intended) state law. And hopefully there is an orange suit to match his hair in the Federal system. But I digress.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons monitors the spread of Covid-19 within its system.Each separate prison is like its own city and to that end each institution has continuity of operations (COOP) plans that provide guidance to staff in emergency situations and Covid is an emergency situation. And those plans are reviewed and updated and the BOP utilizes guidance from the CDC and the WHO and an alphabet soup of bureaucratic offices and personnel to assure the safety of the prison population.
This city contains inmates, staff, visitors, contractors and anyone who may enter the rounds. The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has been monitoring the spread ofCovid-19 within its walls to insure the safety of the inmates, staff and public at large. InNovember 2020 the BOP suspended social visitation but extended telephone minutes from 300 to 500 minutes per month at no extra charge to make up for the loss of social contact with loved ones. However where possible, on an institution by institution basis social visits are being reinstated in accordance with the BOP’s Phase Nine Action Plan following strict guidelines of non-contact and social distancing to mitigate risks.
Screening, testing, temperature checks are being done on inmates and all others who enter the buildings. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 or higher is denied access.Within the facilities themselves inmates activities and movement have been restricted and modified to maximize social distancing and minimize the possible spread of the disease. To this end movements in small numbers have been placed in such areas as showers, the commissary, laundry, telephones. If inmates arrive symptomatic or positive they are put in medical isolation. Inmates who arrive asymptomatic or negative are placed in quarantine.
The list of directives is exhaustive in how to keep the humans within the prison city safe but rather than list them let the numbers speak for themselves.As of January 14, 2021 from the BOP website:
“The BOP has 123,052 federal inmates in BOP-managed institutions and 13,807 in community-based facilities. The BOP staff complement is approximately 36,000. There are 4,718 federal inmates and 2,049 BOP staff who have confirmed positive test results for COVID-19 nationwide. Currently, 38,535 inmates and 3,553 staff have recovered. There have been 190 federal inmate deaths and 3 BOP staff member deaths attributed to COVID-19 disease. Of the inmate deaths, 4 occurred while on home confinement.”
So in percentages: that is 29% of inmates are currently testing positive and 17% of staff.
Then we have the state prisons which are managed by state authorities. So when we think about it we have 50 separate departments of corrections in this country overseeing their own criminal justice proceedings and covid procedures. So without further ado I’ll discuss California:
The statewide totals:
But it seems that California’s inmates are not the only one’s suffering a similar fate. Crime doesn’t pay in New York either.
“Nearly 2,000 New York State prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last six weeks — exceeding the number of inmates who had the virus during the first eight months of the pandemic, new data from the Corrections Department shows.”
And so I asked myself if this was a big state problem as in population. Or a heaven forbid a Blue state problem to give the losing party something to hang on to Joe Biden. Nope. It’s a 50 state problem within the messed up system of our criminal justice system and the virus that is out of control.
The virus is so out of control that local jails and state prisons are being shut down completely and prisoners are being transferred elsewhere.”
From California to Missouri to Pennsylvania, state and local officials say that so many guards have fallen ill with the virus and are unable to work that abruptly closing some correctional facilities is the only way to maintain community security and prisoner safety,” Xinhua news agency quoted The New York Times (NYT) report as saying onSaturday.”
The prisons that are staying open will be a throwback to the Middle Ages: overcrowded, unsanitary, disease spreading mini-cities that will spill out beyond their walls.
Author: Sherri Margolin