Rage of CoronaVirus Through U.S. Prisons

Kelsey Riley

United States prison inmates are getting hit hard after a covid outbreak has begun in both the state and federal prisons. The Center for Infectious Disease and Policy (CIDRAP) News reports that 3.25% of the prison population is infected with the virus compared to the 0.59% of the general population. The prison population is currently including 1,295,285 prison inmates and a total of 42,107 of these inmates have tested positive for the virus. CIDRAP reports that the virus has been found to have been spreading much quicker in these isolated communities 510 of the inmates infected passed away from the virus creating a death rate of 0.039%. This compares to the general United States population where the death rate is 0.029% after 1,920,904 Americans were infected and 95,608 of them passed away. 

With prisons having such small areas of containment it leads to a faster spread of the virus throughout the facilities. An inmate from Pinellas County Jail, Schnell states, “When you’re in prison during a pandemic the world becomes very,very small.” He discusses what life for him has been like being trapped in a tiny jail cell wondering what the world looks like around you. In order to try and pinpoint the number of covid cases in the prisons a mass test was done within 15 United States jurisdictions. CIDRAP News reports a case study that shows that 12 of the 15 units have three times the amount of covid cases in dormitory based units than in a general cell unit. In two of the prisons those inmates who tested negative for the virus were put into quarantine as a close contact and roughly 25% tested positive after their seven day quarantine.

The number of covid cases within the United States prisons still appears to be on the rise as the number of cases is increasing by roughly one percent each week. The highest peak of cases within prisons was hit in late December when 1 in 5 prisoners tested positive and  a slight decrease was seen  going into January, but the cases appear to be picking back up according to The Marshall Project. Federal prisons are currently the prisons with the most covid cases. It is closely followed by California state prisons and Texas state prisons. 

The Marshall project reports a study done on California prisons that shows per every 10,000 prisoners there are 4,184 prisoners infected with the virus. A member of the Marshall Project states, “We know little about how the coronavirus is affecting them, though they have the potential to carry it both into facilities and back out to their communities.” When attempting to control the spread of the virus it needs to be taken into account the safety of the workers, officers and nurses who attend work in these facilities. 

The states have done everything in their power to limit contact between the inmates but it has not done much to limit the spread. Although quarantined, the inmates and their close contacts have been found to be effective at slowing the spread of the virus, 25% of those in close contact have still been found to have gotten the virus even after their isolation period. With limited space in prisons, it is hard to completely cut off the contact between inmates which makes it hard for the states to control the virus from spreading.