COVID-19 and Prisons by Jodie and Billy Sinclair

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, there are in the U.S. 1,316,000 inmates in state prisons, 615,000 in state jail facilities, 215,000 in federal prison/jail facilities, and 48,000 in youth detention facilities.

The COVID-19 virus will decimate the nation’s prison populations.

Inmates live in confined quarters, either in cellblocks or dormitories. One infected inmate, who will inevitably be infected by either prison staff or family visitors, will trigger an uncontrollable infection spread much like the Australian fire spread last summer. The infection spread cannot be contained in a particular cellblock or dormitory, regardless of how tight it is locked down.

More often than not, prison health care today is provided to inmates by for-profit private medical delivery systems that have little or no regard for an inmate’s medical well-being or physical safety. Essentially, there are no meaningful medical care delivery systems in the nation’s prisons.

Once the virus infection is either detected or strongly suspected, prison staff will immediately start taking sick leave or simply refusing to show up for work. The warden will be forced to declare a state of emergency. The governor will recognize that declaration. The National Guard will be called out to surround and control the locked down prison.

No movement inside the prison will be allowed. Food will be delivered by people dressed in hazmat suits.

As for medical care, medical personnel will refuse to enter the infection swamp. The prison situation will be deemed too dangerous or unstable. The doctors, physician assistants and nurses value their own lives and the lives of their families more than they do the lives of inmates.

There are significant medical geriatric groups and elderly population groups in every community prison. All of these inmates are in the extreme COVID-19 risk categories. None will survive—not one.

Cell bars will be rattled; screams and curses will piece the night; old scores and grudges will be settled; mini-uprisings will occur; the National Guard will quell disturbances with excessive tear gas, pepper spray and live rounds. It will be a nightmare.

Inmates will die by the thousands. Their contaminated bodies will be incinerated.

On the outside, hysterical inmate families will be unable to help their loved ones, knowing all the while that the inmates will die horrible deaths with no medical attention.

The inmates that manage to survive and return to their loved ones will never quite be the same again.

For the most part, the virus nightmare will go unnoticed by the larger free community paralyzed with its own fears, struggles, and grief.

When COVID-19 has exhausted itself, and all the inmate bodies are burned, there may be an official recrimination or two – but probably not.