COVID-19 Again Hits Jails, Prisons

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Wednesday, December 22, 2021 - 8:29am

In Philadelphia's jail, the number of COVID-19 cases has tripled in two months. In Chicago's lockup, infections have increased 11-fold. New York City jails are struggling with a 13-fold increase in less than a month. COVID-19 is once again surging behind bars, posing a renewed threat to a high-risk population with spotty access to health care and little ability to distance, reports the Marshall Project. It's unclear whether the surge is due to the highly contagious omicron variant. Still, as caseloads skyrocket and omicron becomes the dominant variant, experts worry the coronavirus is once again poised to sweep through jails and prisons. Inmates face uncertain access to booster shots, vaccine hesitancy and staffing shortfalls that have created even harsher conditions.

"The overcrowding. The poor sanitary conditions. The lack of access to health care," said Monik Jimenez, an epidemiologist at Harvard's School of Public Health. "Masking is only going to do so much when you have people on top of you." Prison officials are giving prisoners little information. "They're not telling us anything about omicron or anything else for that matter," said Rachel Padgett, a federal prisoner in Florida. Inmates said they were less concerned about catching the virus than about being locked down because of it, facing months confined to their cells and bunks with no way to call home, see their families or go outside. Aside from a lack of data about booster availability, many states that routinely released real-time data about infections and vaccinations in the first year of the pandemic are now releasing information monthly or not at all, said Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein of the COVID Prison Project at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

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