The U.S. prison system has a lot of well-documented problems, but the coronavirus pandemic has added another: Prisons are epicenters for Covid-19 outbreaks, thanks to overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and limited access to protection equipment. And while many may want to shrug their shoulders over this, the problem is leading directly to deaths of both prisoners and correctional officers, a greater spread in the surrounding communities, and forestalling all the country’s efforts to contain the infection. On this episode of Worst Year Ever, hosts Cody, Katy, and Robert discuss the problem, the protests, the lack of action on the part of the federal, state, and local governments, and more.
Prisons are playgrounds for a viral infection, and the proof is in the numbers: all over the country, prisons are reporting hundreds of cases, many times up to 80% of the prison population. The overcrowding prevents sick prisoners from being isolated, and hand sanitizer has been denied them because it has alcohol in it. In New York, a puzzling policy early in the outbreak stated that no one could wear masks inside prisons, leading to the deaths of 56 correctional officers. These numbers are starkly showcasing a serious problem. On a humanitarian level, prisoners are being denied health care, even having their Covid test results withheld from them; several offenders have seen their punishments become death sentences as they perish from the disease. On a public health level, officers going home at the end of their shifts are spreading the infection to the people in their homes and communities, and prisoners being released are taking infections home with them as well.
Protests and demonstrations have been held at many of these facilities, including immigration detention centers, over the conditions. But as Cody points out, the media coverage has been minimal in comparison to the conversations around the economic protests, and not much is being done to address the demonstrators’ concerns. This is an historic issue with prisoners thanks to decades of demonization. Our lack of programs contributing to recidivism and rehabilitation is a direct result of that demonization, and part of the reason the U.S. has the highest incarcerated population in the world. As with many things, the coronavirus is simply shining a spotlight on exactly why prison conditions, unfair sentencing, racial bias, and more are problems for everyone, not just inmates. Listen to this episode for more about this issue on Worst Year Ever.
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