Olivia Pfeiffer*, Shibu Antony, Grégoire Jacquot, Amy Huynh, Ekaterina Kostioukhina, Akhil Kumar
Edited by Saba Nejad and Yana Petri
Article | Aug. 30, 2021
- Prisons have been hotspots during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Increased transparency on COVID-19 testing, infection, death, and vaccination rates in prisons is needed in order to effectively inform policies to reduce transmission.
- A comprehensive framework which evaluates the availability of data and presence of key policies is needed to hold states accountable and to protect the health of prisoners, staff, and the surrounding communities.
During the global COVID-19 pandemic, prisons have been the center of numerous outbreaks. Current efforts in virus containment have largely failed, due to a lack of standardized guidelines and reporting of key data regarding testing, cases, and deaths within state prisons. This article addresses challenges associated with pandemic management in prisons and policy options to reduce risk to inmates, prison staff, and the communities surrounding prisons. A comprehensive framework for evaluating a state prison’s virus management can facilitate improved responses, in particular amongst the rise of more virulent strains and ongoing cases. Such a framework may also serve as guidance in other situations of a similar nature.
1. Prison populations have higher rates of comorbidities or chronic health conditions. When compared to the general public, prison populations have a higher prevalence of infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), methicillin-resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), hepatitis B, hepatitis C, syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, and tuberculosis (TB). Prisoners are also more likely to suffer from adverse consequences due to the rather high burden of existing non-communicable comorbidities such as asthma, hypertension, diabetes, substance abuse, and other mental health conditions [16, 17].These conditions put individuals at a higher risk for developing severe complications once infected with the virus.
2. Close living quarters and overcrowding limit ability to social distance. Effective infection prevention protocols, such as minimizing rates of contact via the practice of “social distancing,” are difficult if not impossible to comply with given the cramped conditions within prison environments .
5. Correctional facilities are often underfunded and understaffed. All fifty states in the U.S. have reported prison staffing shortages since 2017, a problem that persists today and is exacerbated by the global pandemic . Fewer correctional staff are available to provide medical care, mitigate violence, and rehabilitate inmates. Further, existing staff are forced to work long hours and many overtime shifts. There has also been a constrained supply of personal protective equipment for inmates and staff alike where masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) were only provided in case there were sufficient supplies. –.
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