Amid Release Demands, Prisons Called ‘Bacteria Factories’

Print More

In Texas’ Estelle prison unit, most men in the geriatric dormitory first ran afoul of the law years or even decades ago. Today, any outward hint of menace has evaporated. White-haired, frail and often tethered to canes or wheelchairs, they live in small rectangular cubicles. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, prisoner advocates are warning of the potential for a disastrous outbreak behind bars. Jails and prisons, where social distancing is nearly impossible, are breeding grounds for contagious disease, Stateline reports. “These prisons are bacteria factories,” said Rick Raemisch, former Colorado corrections director. “I don’t think people understand the gravity of what’s going to happen if this runs in a prison, and I believe it’s inevitable.”

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice reported its first positive case of COVID-19 this week, a contract employee who tested positive and was ordered to self-quarantine. While state prisons have resisted calls to release inmates, several large local jurisdictions have freed hundreds of jail inmates deemed low-risk. New Jersey plans to release as many as a thousand people from jails. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio may release 200 inmates. Los Angeles County and Ohio’s Cuyahoga County have released prisoners. Prisoner advocacy groups in states including Texas, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Michigan have asked governors to release prisoners through compassionate release or medical furlough. States have sidestepped such requests but are disinfecting more frequently and tightening screening at prison entrances. “We’re doing everything we can in our power to socially distance folks … by slowing down offender movements and various other techniques,” said Jeremy Desel of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, “but given the circumstances there will be times when there will be more people in one place than anybody would like.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *