The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) affected everyone, even prisoners. When the virus penetrated prison settings, there have been a lot of concerns about the health and safety of people who need to stay for years behind bars to live the consequences of their ill behaviors in the past.
Regardless of the prisoners’ legal violation, many peace advocates support prisoner rights to healthcare. When medical concerns can result in life-threatening injuries, the correctional officers should check the validity of the complaints and don’t allow the inmates to suffer.
In this article, you’ll learn the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on prisoners.
- Explosive Outbreaks
According to the United Nations, the COVID-19 pandemic hit prison settings hard andis at risk of explosive disease outbreaks, affecting over 11 million prisoners around the world. Over 527,000 prisoners have become infected in 122 countries. More than 3,800 inmates died in 47 countries.
Theimpact of COVID-19 on prisonersis overburdened with health or additional crises. Prisons with overcrowding issues, poor sanitation,and lack of healthcare services were severely affected. Prisoners don’t have adequate access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 testing capacities. Hence, resolving the challenges linked with incarceration and penal reform is crucialto recover from the pandemic.
- Older Prisoners Are At A High Risk
After many years or even decades of imprisonment, older adults make up a major share of the state prison population. Older people are vulnerable groups, and they’re at a higher risk of experiencing serious COVID-19 complications.
Older inmates have limited access to health services andhave poor health. They tend to have chronic health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and asthma, increasing their risk of serious complications from the COVID-19. Therefore, they’re at the greatest risk of death during a public health crisis.
- No Treatment Choice
In a recent report, antiparasitic drug ivermectin was administered to prison inmates in Arkansas despite the warnings of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA warned the public against using this drug to prevent or treat COVID-19. There have been unfounded claims on social media.
Ivermectin tablets were approved for some parasites and as topicals in treating rosacea and head lice. However, this drug isn’t an antiviral drug, and large doses may cause more harm than good to patients.
It seems that prisoners don’t have options when it comes to COVID-19 treatment. While prisoners can accept or deny a specific treatment, the quality of medical services they receive is lacking.
- Opportunity ForDecarceration
The transmission of the COVID-19 poses a serious threat to prison personnel, prisoners, lawyers, and the communities where the prison facilities are located. Overcrowding in the correctional system, the older population, and underlying health conditions exacerbate the transmission of the highly contagious virus, which opens opportunities for decarceration.
However, the abrupt release of inmates and the lack of planning can increase thenumber of compassionately released inmates who end up homeless. Some released prisoners said that being released is more emotionally difficult during this time of the pandemic. Rapid decarceration, when released into a largely halted and socially distant society, isn’t ideal for successful re-entry.
- Mental Health Issues
When facing a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, inmates tend to experience higher levels of stress and anxiety because of the high-risk and uncertain circumstances they’re all living in. The deprivations of family support and a higher risk of contamination further increase the concerns of inmates.
Incarcerated populations like inmates face many vulnerabilities during the pandemic. The rates of substance use disorders, mental disorders, and poverty are high.Overcrowded facilities, limited access to sanitizing and hygiene products, overburdened health care services, and confined spaces increase the risks of acquiring the virus.
The government tries to provide mental health services in prisons during the pandemic crisis. There’s a need to decrease the flow of people (staff and non-inmates) into prison settings. In addition, there was a temporary stop in inmate visitation except for emergency attorney visits. A part of the health protocols was shifting parole board hearings to videoconferencing.
Prison facilities have hand sanitizers. Dispensers have an alcohol-free germicide. There were modifications in outdoor recreation schedulesto reduce the number of prisoners in a given yard. All staff and inmates received cloth masks. COVID-19 screening and testing expanded throughout the prison. Verbal symptom screenings and touchless temperature readings are also enforced.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit inmates all over the world. While social distancing and other health measures are part of safety guidelines, many prison settings can’t observe them strictly due to the existing conditions and problems of most correctional facilities in terms of space and healthcare.