PortandTerminal.com, March 17, 2020
“If you think a cruise ship is a dangerous place to be during a pandemic, consider America’s jails and prisons.” Dr. Amanda Klonsky
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – Hundreds of inmates escaped from at least four prisons in the state of Sao Paulo after local officials cancelled their temporary exits because of fears they could bring the new coronavirus back with them upon their return.
Italy faced an almost identical problem last week when inmates across Italy rioted broke out of prison. Inmates, angered by restrictions on family visits, went on the rampage and started fires. Seven were killed.
Iran has temporarily freed thousands of additional prisoners, including political prisoners, in an attempt to reduce pressure on its prisons system as the country struggles to contain the spread of coronavirus.
The announcement on Tuesday came after the judiciary said last week that 70,000 prisoners had temporarily been released, mostly non-violent offenders serving short prison sentences.
Questions are now being asked by officials about how to manage prevent massive coronavirus hotspots in America’s prisons. Dr. Amanda Klonsky has written an insightful article for the New York Times on this matter (paywall).
The American criminal legal system holds almost 2.3 million people in prisons, jails, detention centers and psychiatric hospitals.
Conditions are crowded and unsanitary. People share bathrooms, laundry and eating areas. The toilets in their cells rarely have lids. The toilet tank doubles as the sink for handwashing, tooth brushing and other hygiene. People bunked in the same cell — often as many as four — share these toilets and sinks. A perfect environment for the spread of a highly contagious virus like coronavirus.
If you think a cruise ship is a dangerous place to be during a pandemic, consider America’s jails and prisons.Dr. Amanda Klonsky, New York Times, March 16, 2020
Dr. Klonsky also notes that jails are particularly frightening in this pandemic because of their massive turnover. While there are about 612,000 people in jail on any given day, more than half are only in there for two to three days. They return to their communities where can easily spread any virus that they have contracted while in jail.
On Friday, the Federal Department of Correction announced that incarcerated people at all 122 federal correctional facilities across the country will not be allowed visits from family, friends or attorneys for 30 days, in response to the threat of the coronavirus.
Will officials be able to keep a lid on America’s prisons or will there be riots as there have been in other countries? And what of the spread of the virus for those on the inside – both prisoners and employees of the prison system?
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