Changes ‘Urgently Needed’ on COVID-19 in Prisons, Jails, Experts Say

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COVID-19 outbreaks are still growing fast in the nation’s jails, prisons, and
detention centers, says a new report for the Council on Criminal Justice, a national think tank.

“The current system and operations of facilities of incarceration are not able to protect incarcerated individuals from COVID-19. Changes are urgently needed to diminish the risk of transmission and provide the standard of care to those who have been infected with this disease,” the report says.

As of June 6, the COVID-19 case rate in prisons was 5.5 times higher and the
age-adjusted death rate was 3 times higher than that of the overall U.S. population, says the report from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security, is a member of the council’s National Commission on on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, headed by former Attorneys General Alberto Gonzales and Loretta Lynch,

“The U.S. criminal justice system is highly susceptible to the spread of COVID-19 because of the structure of carceral facilities, which propagates the spread of respiratory infections, and the comorbidities of many incarcerated individuals,” say the report’s authors.

They say the pandemic poses a great threat to staff members who work at these facilities and the broader criminal justice system.

The experts give eight recommendations for corrections administrators:

–Reduce the population density of corrections facilities by limiting pretrial detention to cases when an individual has made credible, serious threats of violence or flight from prosecution, and expediting release or parole for all older incarcerated individuals and those with chronic conditions that predispose them to severe COVID-19.

–Reexamine the relationship between health and incarceration in decisions of bail, sentencing, and release.

–Make testing results and prevention strategies public.

–Conduct widespread and continuous viral testing.

–Implement quarantine and medical isolation strategies to respond to active cases.

–Modify facility practices and procedures to prevent disease spread.

–Standardize health care services to ensure incarcerated people have access
to standard care for COVID-19.

–When a safe and effective vaccine becomes available, prioritize vaccination access
to incarcerated people and staff , equivalent to prioritizing vaccination in other high-risk congregate care settings like nursing homes.

The report also made recommendations for courts:

–Implement alternatives to in-person court appearances when possible.

–Provide adequate access to technology in corrections facilities for virtual court appearances.

–When in-person court proceedings must occur, they should be conducted in a way that ensures adequate physical distancing for staff, defendants, and juries; all should wear masks.

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