Battered by coronavirus infections and deaths, some local jails and state prison systems are shutting down lockups and transferring inmates elsewhere, the New York Times reports. From California to Missouri to Pennsylvania, officials say so many guards have fallen ill and are unable to work that abruptly closing some correctional facilities is the only way to maintain community security and prisoner safety. Jails and prisons that stay open will probably become even more crowded, unsanitary and disease-ridden. “Movement of people is dangerous,” said Prof. Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, who tracks coronavirus in correctional settings. “We’ve got really good examples of overcrowding equals more infection and greater risk of outbreak. We’ve got lots of evidence that even transferring people from one facility to the next is very dangerous.“
There have been more than 480,000 confirmed coronavirus infections and at least 2,100 deaths among inmates and guards in prisons, jails and detention centers across the nation. Nearly 100,000 correctional officers have tested positive and 170 have died. Early in the pandemic, some states tried to ward off virus outbreaks by releasing some offenders early and detaining fewer people awaiting trial, but those efforts often met with resistance from politicians and the public. More recently, as arrests in many areas have increased, jail populations have returned to pre-pandemic levels, says the Vera Institute of Justice. North Carolina prison officials have closed the Randolph Correctional Center in Asheboro along with three minimum-security facilities. “It feels like we’re holding this together with bubble gum and packaging tape,” said Todd Ishee, state prison commissioner. In Missouri, Howard and Pike counties shut down jails. Elsewhere, authorities have so far rejected prison closures, but have taken sweeping measures to try keeping pace with a virus that has moved through prisons with lightning speed.