Fear of coronavirus spreading through prisons and into general population

Prisons are nearly perfect breeding grounds for coronavirus: the population lives in close-quarters, with people who don’t necessarily have access to soap, or hand sanitizer, or good healthcare. Hallways are small and tight, by design.

And, the US’s over three thousand jails have high turnover rates, with thousands of people coming into and going out of the system daily.

large population inside US prisons and jails

The US holds 2.3 million prisoners every day, which is the highest prison and jail population of any country in the world. The US incarcerates twice as many people as Russia, five times as many as China, six times as many as Canada and France, and 17 times Japan’s rate.

health care is sub-standard in prison

Increasingly, our jails have turned to for-profit companies known as “correctional health care,” which offer health care at lower price points.

For-profit medical services for the incarcerated started in the 1980’s, during President Reagan’s time in office, as a result of a move toward privatization of correctional facilities.

The trend accelerated after the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which caused a jail and prison population increase from about three hundred thousand, in 1980, to more than two million today.

Today, more than half of all US states hire private companies to provide at least some of their prison health care.

An investigation by the New Yorker shows these companies to have large numbers of lawsuits for neglect, malpractice, wrongful injury and death. Read more here.

health problems are common among inmates

About 40% of inmates have chronic health conditions, which could make them more susceptible to the coronavirus.

how a coronavirus outbreak could leave a prison

Hundreds of thousands of inmates go in and out of jails every day. Visitors and correctional workers also interact with inmates in small spaces. Any of these people can bring the virus into the facility, or take it out into the population.

Want to understand what the coronavirus does to your body? Geek out on a simple explanation here.

According to the WHO, China and South Korea have used effective techniques to contain the spread of COVID-19. How does China’s reaction to the coronavirus differ from the U.S.? Check out the debate here.


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