How is COVID-19 affecting incarcerated individuals?

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we want to take a look inside prisons and jails across America. There are a number of organizations and government leaders pushing for the release of incarcerated individuals who are at a high risk of contracting the virus or are serving time for low-level crimes.

This is for good reason since prisons and jails can be a breeding ground for the coronavirus. It’s pretty much impossible for inmates to stay a safe distance from one another. They can’t always keep their hands clean and there aren’t standard procedures across the board for these facilities to follow in order to reduce the spread.

Additionally, many inmates have underlying health problems that make them more susceptible to the virus. An unfortunate example of this, is Andrea Circle Bear, a 30-year-old woman, who was sentenced to 26 months in prison for a low-level crime in Forth Worth, Texas. Andrea was 8 1/2 months pregnant and ended up getting the virus. She was put on a ventilator. She gave birth while on the ventilator and died three weeks later. If she had been released, she could have practiced social distancing to keep her and her baby safe.

Because of stories like these and the higher risk of contracting the virus in prisons and jails, it’s important that we consider releasing certain inmates early. We also need to reduce how many people are being incarcerated.

Many inmates are incarcerated for low-level crimes, which isn’t always necessary. Why continue crowding our already overflowing criminal justice system? The more inmates that come in, the greater the chance the virus will spread. There are those who work in the jails and prisons as well, that come and go between the inside and outside. They could bring the virus home to their family or into the communities where they live.

Many jails and prisons have stopped in-person visits to reduce the risk. This can be hard on inmates as they need a way to contact their families on the outside. It’s important that inmates are able to reach their family via phone or by video call during this time. Some institutions have waived fees and others have reduced fees, but not all have done something about this.

In some prisons, inmates don’t receive proper medical care because of the expense. In many jails and prisons, inmates are only paid about 14 to 63 cents an hour. They are then charged $2-5 dollars for a copay. This would equate to hundreds of dollars in the general public. Thankfully, some institutions have waived these fees, although not all have done so.

One of the other problems is that jails and prisons are disproportionately made up of people of color and people of color have shown a greater risk of getting COVID-19. They’re also at a higher risk of dying from the virus.

COVID-19 isn’t just hurting the general public, but also those incarcerated. Most of the general public has the option to social distance unless their job doesn’t allow for it. Most of us can wash our hands frequently or reach for sanitizer when a sink isn’t available. We have more control over our health and well-being and can mitigate the risk of spreading the virus.

Unfortunately for incarcerated individuals, it’s another story. Most jails and prisons need to initiate further protocols to help protect their residents. They should also consider the release of certain inmates and reduce the number of people being entered into the system.

[Monalisa Johnson is a licensed and ordained minister of the gospel and a certified life coach as well as a mother and entrepreneur. In no way is anything that she writes, speaks or shares considered medical advice or clinical therapy. Consider all that you receive to be life coaching and guidance.]

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