U.S. prisons are crowded, dirty and opaque. COVID-19 is running rampant.
Authorities prepare for a pandemic among the population behind bars
Two million three hundred thousand people. So many people live behind bars in the USA today – some for serious crimes, and some for administrative violations such as unpaid parking tickets, or while awaiting a response from immigration officials. For US prisoners, the risk of death due to coronavirus infection is higher than the national average due to a number of factors, including overcrowding and limited medical resources there..
The US Federal Bureau of Prisons denied an interview with the Russian Service «Voices of America», however, it provided a written report on preparations for the emergence of coronavirus within its walls. For example, federal prisons have introduced a two-week quarantine for all new prisoners, limited communication with lawyers, canceled visits from relatives and families, and conducted an inventory of cleaning supplies and medical supplies. The department emphasizes that it is preparing for a pandemic in accordance with the recommendations of the US Department of Health and the World Health Organization.
Lawyer Corinne Kendrick, before the start of the general quarantine in California, personally toured the country‘s prisons as part of the commissions «American Civil Liberties Union» (ACLU) – one of the oldest human rights organizations in America. She doubts that in the coronavirus pandemic, US prisons are capable of fulfilling the recommendations of the Department of Health.
«It is extremely difficult for the population behind bars to maintain adequate hygiene standards and social distancing guidelines, – she explains. – For example, the prison management department in Arizona forces them to buy soap. At the same time, they receive mini-pieces on their hands like those that we see in hotels. With these pieces, they should not only wash, but also wash their cells or rooms where there are multi-tiered beds.».
Getting basic medical care behind bars in many states requires the financial involvement of the prisoner himself, says the human rights activist..
«If the prisoner is not feeling well, he fills out a nurse appointment form and must pay a fee in some states., – explains Kendrick. – In Arizona, it’s four dollars. I understand that for me and you this is a very small amount, but since people in prison are not protected by fair pay laws and receive 10 cents an hour, for them this contribution is equivalent to forty hours of work.».
The human rights activist noted that some prisons have already made concessions and canceled the requirement for monetary participation in cases with flu symptoms.
Chris Beirer, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, is concerned that sick prisoners who require ventilators will not be able to receive adequate medical care. Typically, these patients are sent to regular hospitals accompanied by two guards..
«First, our healthcare system is already facing an acute shortage of everything needed to treat coronavirus patients. And secondly, if the outbreak of infections continues at the current level, then we simply will not have healthy prison staff, and there will be no one to escort sick prisoners to hospitals.», – he explains.
As the coronavirus spreads across the planet, a variety of states – from Iran and Sudan to Canada, Poland and the UK – released tens of thousands of prisoners to freedom. The United States was in no hurry with such a step and only this week began to temporarily release several categories of offenders, preparing beds for future patients. Human rights activist Corinne Kendrick urges not to be afraid of such a decision by the authorities. According to her, over the past 20 years in the United States, the population of prisons has aged dramatically. Today, the number of people aged 55 and over exceeds the number of violators between the ages of 18 and 24.
«The release from prisons of those who are already 50, 60 and 70 years old will not put our society at risk. Numerous studies show that older people lose their desire for crime. Almost all of them do not pose a danger to society, but the threat to the country’s health system as a whole is significantly reduced.», – the lawyer thinks.
«The idea itself has already been refuted by science, – he notes. – In prisons, guards and other staff work around the clock, in three shifts. That is, in this system, constant contact with the outside world is established. Even 10 years ago, our research in Eastern Europe showed that when prisoners get sick with tuberculosis, the spread of this disease will be recorded in the country as a whole.».
Human rights activists and doctors in the United States urge the authorities and ordinary Americans not to forget about the rights of those who are behind bars. After all, imprisonment does not mean a denial of the right to health and life. Even during a pandemic