Information About Prison Service Response To Covid-19
With the advent of Covid-19 in early 2020, it was clear that prisons and other densely populated correctional facilities would have a severe challenge of mitigating the pandemic.
The overcrowding of prisons resulting from decades of mass jailing of offenders presents a fertile breeding ground for the Coronavirus. Moreover, after a severe first state attempt to fight the virus in prisons, correctional facilities remain incapable of providing the most direct interventions.
Furthermore, the communal spread of the Coronavirus affects prisons, too, as the correctional facilities are part of the larger community. Interactions between the inmate’s loved ones, their lawyers, and contractors working in prison are sources that accelerate Covid-19 in prisons.
The article serves as a comprehensive guide on the steps prison and other correctional facilities are taking to ensure that inmates are kept safe from the ravages of the virus.
Are prisons Observing The Basic WHO Covid-19 Prevention Protocols?
The US jails contain the highest population of prisoners compared to any other country in the world. Therefore, the justice system must set up Covid-19 prevention measures to ensure the inmates remain healthy.
When the pandemic broke out in early 2020, prison authorities’ response at the correctional facilities was slow.
The overcrowding of the prisons meant that prison authorities struggled to implement the one-and-a-half-meter social distance rule. Furthermore, providing face masks and ensuring that inmates wear them remains a challenge. Supervision remains a tricky proposition as the correct ratio of prison officers to inmates is yet to be realized.
Some changes in routine operations need a shift in policy. For example, prison staff requires authorization and assurance of policy changes to deter loved ones and other community members from in-person visits.
Thus, some jurisdictions have yet to implement even the basic covid-19 prevention measures over a year into the pandemic.
The best part of it remains the extensive efforts that most correctional facilities put in to meet basic Covid-19 containment measures. The efforts to curb Covid-19 in prisons through staff changing common ways of handling inmates have saved many inmates’ lives.
Are there changes in Inmates Intake Procedure Occasioned By Covid-19?
State prisons and correctional facilities see reducing inmate admission as the quickest way of controlling the Covid-19 pandemic in prisons. It is because low admissions in prisons occasions a high inmate turnover.
Interesting statistics from the US indicate that if a prison completely stops inmates’ admission for one week, it reduces the offenders’ population by 54%. Additionally, if the prison cuts admissions by half, the result will be a 25% reduction of the prisoners’ population.
How Can Prisons Cut Their Inmates Admission?
The police may opt to reduce the number of people they arrest. They can achieve this if they don’t arrest petty offenders instead capture serious criminals.
Prosecutors remain respected criminal justice officials. Therefore, the state can use prosecutors in decongesting prisons by looking at some instances on their own merits and demerits. So, it results in fewer prison admissions as they won’t prosecute all cases that come their way.
Also, prosecutors have powers to differ in prosecuting some cases. They may also decide not to charge certain offenses centers or let other social services such as the probation or the parole team handle the defendant.
Equally, correctional facilities may decline admitting people placed under probation who have failed to observe technicalities concerning their parole status.
Should Prisons Allow Visits By Inmate’s Loved Ones?
During pre-Covid-19 days, inmates’ loved ones could make in-person visits as long as they contacted the prison sheriff, who included their names in the visitor’s list.
Additionally, visitors need to follow strict visitation rules that encourage prison safety, such as not carrying contraband items to prison. The prison warder gives visitors a specific visitation date and time.
Flash forward, prison visitations have remained prohibited since the advent of the Corona pandemic to protect the prison community from outside infection.
Equally, the community’s loved ones, and other prison visitors remain protected as the virus may have affected the prison staff and inmates.
The states that have extensively vaccinated their populations, including the prison staff and inmates can be allowed to see their loved ones in person.
However, the prison authorities need visitors to follow other Covid-19 protocols such as wearing facemasks, washing hands, or sanitizing and adhering to the one-and-a-half-meter social distancing rules.
Is Use Of Technology Prefered As Communication Media?
Physical contact between visitors and prisoners has remained restricted in most countries since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic. The visit restrictions left inmates and loved ones disillusioned and disappointed.
The prison authorities sought ways of stopping this suffering. They realized technology deployment proves to be a real solution. Therefore, the use of video technology for prison visitation became widespread.
Zoom, Webex, and Skype remain some of the most popular solutions to video visitation in prison circles.
Belgium popularised the use of telephones in prisons when they equipped all the prison cells with a phone. Furthermore, they introduced extensive use of laptops for video visits via Webex.
In Italy, TIM equipped Italian prisons with 1600 smartphones to ease up communication challenges occasioned by the Coronavirus pandemic.
More importantly, the availability of technology and electronic gadgets in prison doesn’t mean the inmates can communicate the way they want with the outside world. The prison staff still controls when prisoners can use these phones and laptops.
Likewise, prison staff still organize the video visits between the offenders and their loved ones, following prison regulations.
What Are The Reasons Behind The Vulnerability of Prisoners To Covid-19?
Prisoners live in confinement, meaning they find themselves in crowded spaces. These conditions facilitate the widespread transmission of the Coronavirus.
Moreover, prisoners are susceptible to getting sick frequently as you can’t compare the inmate’s health status to people in the outside community. Prisoners are disadvantaged because of such vices as smoking and poor prison conditions in some states.
Poor prison hygiene contributes to poor prisoner health and general weakness in the immune system for a more significant population of prisoners. Therefore, high stress levels and poor diet and nutrition contribute to a lower resistance level among prisoners.
Can Outsiders Bring Cash To Inmates In-Person?
Yes! Outsiders can send money to loved ones incarcerated in prisons, provided they follow strict prison regulations. Besides, what the friends and inmate’s family require is the offender’s federal inmate’s ID number and the correct legal names of the offender.
Additional Covid-19 protocols affect sending physical cash, which is now discouraged with in-person prison visitations. But all the other methods of sending money online to prisoners are accepted.
Prisons open an account for a prisoner, allowing family and friends to send them money online. Thus, cash is transmitted online using electronic methods such as Money Gram, Western Union, family bank accounts, and even Mobile Apps such as Jpay.
How Does The Correctional Facility Staff care for sick inmates?
Whenever communities plan to fight Covid-19, they need to include prisons in these effective plans. Besides, jails offer a breeding ground for the spread of the virus due to overcrowding of prisoners and poor sanitation.
For instance, after positive tests, Marion County Correctional Institution recorded a staggering 75% of its prison population infected with Coronavirus.
More importantly, international laws give prisoners the right to proper medical care when ill.
When it comes to Covid-19, the state needs to put clear mitigation measures against the virus to protect prisoners by providing hygienic materials since keeping prison cells clean is essential.
Furthermore, disinfecting the prison environment, phones, toilets, and other prison surfaces that prisoners frequently touch helps curb the virus transmission rate in prison.
When correctly planned, testing inmates remains an effective tool to deter further Coronavirus spread among inmates. Also, prisoners must have access to medical care whenever they need it, and doctors should be accessible at all times.
The healthcare staff needs to monitor prisoners for any signs of the virus. So, taking the temperatures of prisoners and testing inmates that show the virus signs is one way of helping out prisoners.
Prisons should isolate prisoners testing positive for Coronavirus in a single block for two weeks. The isolation centre implements all Covid-19 measures to ensure a quick recovery and stop further virus spread among the population.
Doctors need to ensure that they are accessible to provide routine healthcare services. It will help reduce the risk of covid infection due to underlying diseases and low inmate body immunity.
How Are Outsiders Like Lawyers And Volunteers Treated?
Prison authorities suspended lawyer visitations and volunteer presence immediately after the Covid-19 was declared an international pandemic.
All prison visitations remained suspended for quite some time until the justice system prepared proper visitation guidelines. Thus, prisons provide inmates with a free fifteen minutes call per week to ensure they could communicate with loved ones and essential people like lawyers.
Furthermore, the prison authorities provided offenders with two free stamps every week.
Lawyers need to contact the prison warden’s office between 5-7 days before the day he intends to visit the inmate.
Volunteers need to contact the prison authorities for any prison service they intend to provide. Prisons evaluate volunteer visits to check if the services fall among inmates’ essential needs.
Are There Measures Taken To Mitigate Overcrowding?
Overcrowding in prison remains a long-time challenge all over the world. An increase in criminal activities and the long sentences handed over to offenders in the past decade contributed to the current overcrowding state of prisons.
One of the key measures to control Covid-19 is observing social distance. However, it proves a difficult proposition in a prison hence the need to address prison overcrowding.
The Federal justice system may allow prisons to reduce their intake number significantly, easing the pressure on overcrowded jails.
Besides, police can only apprehend criminals who commit severe offenses instead of those who commit minor crimes.
Prosecutors can also use their discretion to prosecute severe cases and acquit offenders with minor issues like those who may have skipped the parole visitation rules.
Release Reformed Prisoners
Prison authorities can acquit prisoners who are about to finish their jail terms. However, the prisoners need to have reformed to be released early.
Prisons should pardon Prisoners serving shorter jail terms to reduce prison overcrowding.
Constructing Extra Inmate Blocks
Prison authorities didn’t anticipate the Coronavirus pandemic. Thus, they had to work on solving the long-standing issue of prison expansion to overcome inmate overcrowding.
Prison authorities should construct new prison blocks to ensure prisons meet the social distancing rule, which poses the most significant challenge to prisons’ effective fight against the virus.
Which Ways Do Prison Staff Use To Ensure They Remain Safe From Covid-19 While On Duty?
Prison staff remains one of the most vulnerable frontline workers as far as Covid-19 is concerned. The inmate population is prone to high-risk infections due to prison overcrowding and poor prison sanitation.
Therefore, the prison staff must persistently and strictly follow the Covid-19 safety guidelines to remain safe.
Among the measures they can take is to measure temperature levels when they report to duty. Additionally, prisons need to disinfect the staffs’ offices and all the surfaces that they frequently touch.
Also, they need to adhere to the social distancing rule, wash hands, and sanitize frequently. The Staff needs to stop unnecessary prison visitation from outsiders and keep in-person contact with people minimal.
How Has Covid-19 Changed The Way Education and Work Are Pursued In Prison?
Prison education and work provide an opportunity for a significant number of prisoners and staff to mingle freely. Prisoners enjoy these activities since they enjoy being productive and can free their minds from thoughts.
However, the Coronavirus pandemic changed this situation. So, with the widespread transmission among significant populations, the prison authorities need to re-imagine the best way to provide education and ensure prisoners still work in the fields.
Prisons suspended most in-person education for a while, but the challenge brought about reforms in the prison education sector.
Prisons introduced new teaching methods that include using online resources and digital gadgets—for example, telephones, radio podcasts, voice recorders, Ipads, and memory sticks.
Traditional methods such as the exchange of letters between students and teachers remained in use.
Has Inmate Transportation Outside Prison Been Affected?
Inmate transportation outside prison remains one of the most challenging tasks prison staff may face on duty. Notably, it remains a difficult time as most inmates use the ride as a significant opportunity to escape from prison.
The Duty correctional officers must always remain alert before, during, and on arrival.
More importantly, during the Covid-19 pandemic, prisoners transported out must be limited in numbers to ensure social distance in bus seating arrangements. Inmates need to put on facemasks before they’re chained.
The bus seats need to be disinfected before prisoners can embark on the vehicle. Also, the guards need to wash their hands and sanitize just like the prisoners and put on facemasks before they set out for the trip.
Prison facilities are high-risk areas for breeding and transmission of Covid-19. Prison overcrowding and poor sanitation highlight the significant reason for this phenomenon.
It isn’t easy to control Coronavirus without implementing social distancing as a full mitigation measure. Furthermore, controlling the movement of crowded prisoners is a risky task for prison staff since they can contract the virus.