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Protecting Prisoners From COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic doesn’t discriminate. This virus is killing thousands of people globally by the day. While many people and organizations are trying to do their part in flattening the curve – this includes jails.

How jails go about instituting the appropriate safety precautions, comes down to how sheriffs enforce the necessary steps to stop the spread of the virus.

Keeping Inmates Healthy During a Pandemic

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, jails record at least 4.9 million admissions per year. That doesn’t even include families, visitors, medical professionals, or the staff at the prison. That’s why it is vital to have strategic health measures in place.

While several jails locked prisoners in their cells, limited in-person visits, enforced cleanliness for staff, and attempted to segregate the symptomatic, it doesn’t always work. By doing this, sheriffs could be doing more harm than good.

Affiliate assistant professor of health services at the University of Washington, Mar Stern, highly encourages sheriffs to stop booking people into jail. By doing this, it reduces the population in the jails and makes the prisoners and facility more manageable for the staff. Also, by doing this, it decreases the potential risk of prisoners and workers getting infected, thus resulting in a jail that is no longer able to function effectively.

In addition, sheriffs are encouraged to release inmates that don’t pose a risk to the community or themselves to avoid overcrowding. However, while some don’t have the authority to release inmates, they can advocate for those who have 30 days or less on their sentences to be released.

It’s important to keep in mind that these inmates, regardless of the pandemic, have legal rights. By stopping in-person visits, it puts a strain on their ability to effectively communicate with their attorney and address legal issues in court. According to Premal Dharia, a former public defender and the founder and director of Defender Impact Initiative, no inmate should be neglected inside a jail – much less a potentially infected one without the ability to be heard and possibly freed.

If sheriffs can effectively maintain a small population in jails, reduce their prisoners and staff’s exposure, and maintain the rights of their inmates, it will dramatically decrease the impact it has on our communities. 

Jails are a part of several communities, and when the health of that facility is under distress, the entire community feels the impact.


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