in partnership with Global Alliance for Behavioral Health and Social Justice
Incarceration and COVID-19 in the U.S.
More than 2.2. million people are incarcerated in the U.S.; this is more people than in any other country and over half of these individuals are incarcerated for non-violent offenses. Incarcerated populations, correctional staff, and their families are at an especially increased risk to become infected with COVID-19, as the prison environment does not lend itself to be protective against illness. There have been over 78,500 cases of COVID-19 in the prison population. As of July 30, 2020, 766 prisoners have died because of COVID-19. Juveniles in detention centers are also contracting COVID-19; as of July 24, 2020, 1,310 juveniles have tested positive in youth facilities and 1,550 staff in these facilities have tested positive.
Justice-involved populations experience poor sanitation, substandard health care, and a lack of adequate health care supplies, including hand sanitizer due to its alcohol content.
Despite calls for reducing the number of persons who are incarcerated during COVID-19, the release of individuals from prisons has lagged behind the pace of release from jails. COVID-19 compounds existing sanitation and health concerns in detention centers, jails, and prisons, making the need for action more critical than ever.
Recommendations for Policymakers to consider
Promote the collection and release of COVID-19 results of staff working in detention centers, jails, and prisons. 68% of states are not currently releasing staff COVID-19 rates. Correctional staff enter and exit facilities every day, which heightens the risk of transmitting COVID-19 to their families and the individuals they work with in the centers. As of July 30, 2020 there were at least 17,476 positive COVID-19 cases among prison staff and 55 reported deaths among staff in states disclosing this data.
Consider expanding the criteria required for transfer to home confinement to reduce the risk of virus transmission in correctional facilities. Examples include the requirements to have completed at least 50% of one’s sentence and reside in a low- or minimum-security facility.
Reduce costs of inmate medical services during COVID-19, such as suspending co-payments.
Encourage institutions to apply for supplemental funds to improve responses to COVID-19.
Create distinct, high-quality, quarantine areas separate from solitary confinement.
Improve access to PPE and personal hygiene items, such as soap.
Support bail reform during COVID-19 to ensure those awaiting trial are not incarcerated and placed at increased risk for COVID-19 solely due to their inability to pay bail.
Encourage institutions to provide persons released with additional support to navigate resources.
Authors: Cathryn Richmond and Kristina McGuire