U.S. Prisons Risk 'Nightmare' Coronavirus Outbreak, Advocates Warn
By Julia Conley
Prisoners' rights advocates are warning that the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. may soon have dire implications for the 2.2 million people living in the American penal system, as prison officials across the country shared little about their plans to keep inmates safe and many of the precautions Americans are being advised to take are unavailable in detention facilities.
In California, according to the Los Angeles Times, administrators in the state's prison system say they are basing contingency plans on those already in place for inmates who contract influenza, which call for "isolation zones" created by placing tape on floors but still allow for sick inmates to share toilets with those who are well.
"Unfortunately, given the volume of incarcerated people in America, the conditions under which they are detained, and the current spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, there is every reason to question whether American detention facilities, as a whole, are up to this challenge," National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers President Nina J. Ginsberg said in a statement last week.
In New York City, where at least 36 coronavirus cases have been reported, the Federal Defenders of New York are calling on the federal Bureau of Prisons to release plans to test inmates for coronavirus and treat people who contract the virus. According to Gothamist, the Bureau — which oversees two large prisons in the city — has yet to respond.
"It's a nightmare waiting to happen," David Patton, executive director of the Federal Defenders of New York, told Gothamist.
Across the country, coronavirus is already having an impact on the criminal legal system. Incarcerated people are u… https://t.co/A9Fd0yhdh2— The Appeal (@The Appeal)1583789835.0
With hundreds and sometimes thousands of inmates living in close quarters with healthcare that experts have found to be deeply inadequate, detention facilities could quickly become dangerous for inmates and staff if the virus enters a facility from outside, which, as Maria Morris of the ACLU's National Prison Project wrote this week, is more likely than some might realize.
"Although people often think of prisons and jails as closed environments, they are not. Medical staff, correctional staff, and visitors come from the community into the facilities every day and then return home," wrote Morris in an op-ed. "There is ample opportunity for a virus to enter a prison or jail, and for it to go back out into the community."
"Even where people are housed in cells, the ventilation is often inadequate," added Morris. "People in prisons and jails are often denied adequate soap and cleaning supplies, making infection control nearly impossible."
While Americans are being advised by the CDC to wash their hands frequently and use alcohol-based hand sanitizer to avoid spreading COVID-19 facilities like the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn is not equipped with soap or hand sanitizer for inmates to use, as MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes tweeted on Saturday.
Got a dispatch today from someone that visited the the MDC Federal Prison in Brooklyn where there was ***no hand sa… https://t.co/hOld7B06vR— Chris Hayes (@Chris Hayes)1583639461.0
Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is contraband in New York prisons.
"It seems crazy that, given the risk of people chugging hand sanitizer or the risk of viral outbreak, they'd err on the side of not having sanitizer," Patton told Gothamist.
On Monday Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state would be producing its own hand sanitizer to combat shortages and price-gouging—with nearly 100 inmates at Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Washington County contracted to make the product. Prisoners in the state earn an average of 65 cents per hour.
"This is nothing less than slave labor and it must end," said Tina Luongo and Adriene Holder, attorneys for Legal Aid Society, said in a joint statement. "It would be even more shocking if prisons and jails were to deem this...product 'contraband' and deprive incarcerated New Yorkers from possessing effective hand sanitizer because of the alcohol content. The same individuals who produce this product should not be prohibited from using it."
In Italy, the country with the second-most coronavirus cases after China, at least seven inmates have died as unrest and protests exploded in the prison system after officials imposed visiting restrictions. To contain the spread of the coronavirus, Iranian officials said Monday they would release 70,000 prisoners on furlough to prevent an outbreak in the country's detention facilities. The decision came after the number of reported cases nearly doubled in the country over the weekend.
At the Prison Policy Initiative, Peter Wagner and Emily Widra on Friday shared examples of "common sense policies" which could slow the spread of the virus among the prison population, including:
- Release medically vulnerable and older inmates.
- Stop charging copays for medical care in prisons.
- Lower jail admissions
- Reduce unnecessary probation and parole meetings.
- End imprisonment for technical parole and probation violations, such as breaking a curfew or failing a drug test.
Every plan to combat a public health epidemic must include "a commitment to continue finding ways...to minimize the number of confined people and to improve conditions for those who are incarcerated, both in anticipation of the next pandemic and in recognition of the every day public health impact of incarceration," Wagner and Widra wrote.
"The real question," they added, "is whether the criminal justice system and the political system to which it is accountable are willing to make hard decisions in the face of this potential pandemic, in the face of the one that will eventually follow, and in the context of the many public health costs of our current system of extreme punishment and over-incarceration."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- 29 Wildfires Blaze Across the West, Fueled by Drought and Wind ... ›
- Large Wildfires Scorch Forests in Drought-Stricken Southwest ... ›
Accessibility to quality health care has dropped for millions of Americans who lost their health insurance due to unemployment. mixetto / E+ / Getty Images
Accessibility to quality health care has dropped for millions of Americans who lost their health insurance due to unemployment. New research has found that 5.4 million Americans were dropped from their insurance between February and May of this year. In that three-month stretch more Americans lost their coverage than have lost coverage in any entire year, according to The New York Times.
- Trump Plans to End Federal Funding for COVID-19 Testing Sites ... ›
- 'Unfathomable Cruelty': Trump Admin Asks Supreme Court to ... ›
On hot days in New York City, residents swelter when they're outside and in their homes. The heat is not just uncomfortable. It can be fatal.
- Extreme Heat-Stressed Locations Could Increase by 80% - EcoWatch ›
- African Americans Are Disproportionately Exposed to Extreme Heat ... ›
- Extreme Heat Is Killing Americans While Government Neglect ... ›
Fracking companies are going bankrupt at a rapid pace, often with taxpayer-funded bonuses for executives, leaving harm for communities, taxpayers, and workers, the New York Time reports.
- Plunging Oil Prices Trigger Economic Downturn in Fracking Boom ... ›
- Fracking Boom Bursts in Face of Low Oil Prices - EcoWatch ›
- As Fracking Companies Face Bankruptcy, U.S. Regulators Enable ... ›
A report scheduled for release later Tuesday by Congress' non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that the Trump administration undervalues the costs of the climate crisis in order to push deregulation and rollbacks of environmental protections, according to The New York Times.
- Under Trump, EPA Workers Seek Bill of Rights to Allow Them to ... ›
- Trump Adds 'Tasteless Insult to Injury' by Pushing Fossil Fuel ... ›
By Kristen Fischer
It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
- Trump Admin Rejects CDC Reopening Guidelines - EcoWatch ›
- How Do You Stay Safe Now That States Are Reopening? - EcoWatch ›
- Florida Breaks U.S. Daily Record With Over 15,000 New ... ›
By Eoin Higgins
Over 300 groups on Monday urged Senate leadership to reject a bill currently under consideration that would incentivize communities to sell off their public water supplies to private companies for pennies on the dollar.
<div id="fea63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a6f211c2bc5aedd34837944cb8eeedf"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281000111481294849" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Water in Illinois is overwhelmingly public. Why is Tammy Duckworth sponsoring a bill that aims to change that? https://t.co/1V36Kkd99s</div> — The American Prospect (@The American Prospect)<a href="https://twitter.com/TheProspect/statuses/1281000111481294849">1594249201.0</a></blockquote></div>
- DNC Ignores Progressive Climate Activists - EcoWatch ›
- Who's a Climate Champion and Who's a Climate Disaster? - EcoWatch ›