COVID-19 Infection Rates Accelerate for U.S. Prisoners
April 12, 2020 (EIRNS)—The American criminal justice system currently holds nearly 2.3 million inmates—which includes federal prisons, jails, military prisons, immigration detention facilities and state psychiatric hospitals, as well as other facilities. It has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Hotspots for coronavirus infections include Chicago’s Cook County jail, and the infamous New York City’s Rikers Island jail. At Rikers Island, there were 231 inmates and 223 staff who tested positive as of April 6; as of March 22, the number of infected inmates was only 52. Across the country, jails and prisons are reporting an accelerated rate of infection. It is difficult to determine a national rate of infection for all prisoners and detainees, because each state or jurisdiction is reporting their data separately.
Besides the obvious issue of overcrowding, inmates have no access to protective masks and gloves, and many have only cold water with which to wash. Some of the “measures” to curtail the spread is to release thousands of those in detention—but without medical screening to determine who might be a carrier of COVID-19; they’re also utilizing “home confinement.” The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) reports that 335 federal inmates and 185 BOP staff have tested positive for COVID-19 as of April 11, but neglects to state how many have been tested, and the figures don’t reflect local jails or other detention facilities. According to its website, the cases are clustered primarily east of the Mississippi River. Institutions across America have reported that the approach to processing new inmates is uneven—there is no uniform protocol for preventing an infected inmate from spreading COVID-19 into a community; some institutions quarantine new individuals, and some do nothing—no testing, no precautions—not even taking someone’s temperature.
According to various press reports, inmates protest that they have no protection whatsoever, and have no ability to practice “social distancing” under prison conditions; that they are being treated worse than livestock. One can assume that given the unsanitary and crowded conditions of U.S. prisons and jails, an explosion of new infections is only a matter of time.