The fight against the COVID-19 virus has shaken the world at large, affecting every aspect of our lives. The economy of the world, education, organizations, and institutions have all been put on hold, to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The message preached by the health organizations to help control the spread of the virus has mainly been a matter of social distancing. It has been stated that safe distancing would stop the spread of the virus, and necessitate the end of the deadly disease. The fact stated above, the world at large has been placed on lockdown in a reasonable bid to reduce social contact and spread of the disease.
However, the results have still been devastating as the United States record major cases of the virus within its border every day and putting it into consideration that best practices have been put in place. The so-called free are continually battling this puzzling disease, without full proof solutions in sight, how then do the not-so-free handle this situation?
Yes, the question being asked is, how the United States Bureau of Prisons are handling the COVID-19 reality within their facilities? What is the fate of inmates, in this fight against the COVID-19 virus? Are the inmates in incarceration practicing viable social distancing practices? Or are they being left to die, due to their current situation?
Correctional Facilities And The COVID-19 Virus
The prison system, just like every other institution, has been affected by the ravaging hands of the COVID-19 virus. The spread of the disease has been appalling due to the concentration of prisoners in the correctional centers and the lack of proper housing facilities for the inmates. This factor alone has spiked the tumultuous increase in the system and has raised a lot of concerns by their loved ones and the people in general.
The absence of proper sanitation processes has added to the easy spread amongst their ranks, leading to the outcry by the inmates and the health community. The deaf ears of authorities have led to some prisoners initiating protests to allow for better solutions to the fight against the spread of the virus. This has led to the release of some prisoners by some countries who are trying to curtail the spread of the virus and reduce the population of their prison systems.
Looking at the United States prison system, according to the article by Angelina Chapin, she said an average of 2.3 million inmates can be found in the 6000 correctional facilities in the United States. This figure is staggering and has been a problem for the officials of the correctional facilities to handle beforehand, and now they must do so while coping with the COVID-19 virus.
How then do the inmates and staff who inhabit these overpopulated encampments cope without having to pass around the virus from one person to the other? These are prisoners who are prohibited from having access to alcohol-based hand sanitizers and then expected to protect themselves against the spread. The odds and not in their favor and the United States Department of Justice should make a rule of considering the inmates' well-being.
According to the data released by the Bureau of Prison as of May 10, 2020, the prison system has recorded a total of 3319 Federal inmates and 250 staff who have contracted the COVID-19 virus. The reported deaths, according to the Bureau of Prisons, is put at 48 amongst the federal prison inmates and a total of 935 recoveries amongst the staff and inmates. This information can be scary to the inmates, loved ones of the inmates, and staff who have been put at risk of the virus.
Combating The COVID-19 Virus In Our Prisons
The year 2018 saw the president of the United States, Donald Trump, signed into law the First Step Act. This Act, which mandates the Attorney General to create an assessment capturing the needs and risk of recidivism amongst inmates, which would be used by the United States Bureau of Prison in selecting inmates who are prepared for re-entry into the society.
This move seems like an overthought and should be applied in combating the spread of COVID-19 virus amongst inmates. Although this Act may not adequately de-populate the prison systems, the move gives access to the application of several other methods of decongesting the correctional facilities.
The introduction of early inmate release via home confinement or through Compassionate Release can save lives and reduce prison sentences for mild and non-violent offenders, reduce probation, and early parole dates are moves that can be taken by the authorities to counter the spread of the virus. Compassionate Release is a process where prisoners with extraordinary or compelling circumstances may be eligible for immediate release for circumstances that were not foreseen by the courts when they were sentenced.
In situations where the inmates are serving a majority percentage of prison time, home confinement could be put in place, as the inmates are first properly corrected for institution back into society, and the use of ankle monitors which would keep them at home for the period of their home confinement. All these factors should be considered as prisoner release guidelines amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
The ways through which the prison system can be de-clogged are numerous, which would keep a larger percentage of inmates and staff safer. It should be known that many inmates have excellent Good Time ratings or time credits, which show how well they have conducted themselves under prison rules and completing educational or vocational programs. So, why do they still have them locked up during periods like this unless maybe the officials or the system does not have trust in the duties of their correctional facilities?
The recent data released by the BOP also initiated the Bureau's approval of home confinement for inmates who have compromised immune systems, or those with pre-existing conditions as regulated by the Center for Disease Control. These moves also serve as remedies for release, as an inadequate assessment of these release clause could bring about release setbacks after this pandemic blows away.
Some schools of thought may favor fighting for better equipping prison infirmaries. Results being released by the Bureau of Prisons would show how prison infirmaries are handling the COVID-19 virus with quarantining and isolation of prisoners.
In conclusion, since the enactment of the First Step and Emergency Cares Act, some prisoner advocates may believe that measures to release vulnerable prisoners to home confinement and reduce mass incarceration should be adequately and immediately carried out. They, prisoners, the loved ones of inmates, and other supporters may believe that the lives of inmates also matter.