COVID-19 and Incarcerated Populations
As the country moves toward protecting citizens from coronavirus through a massive vaccination campaign, it seems that, once again, a large swath of Americans are being left behind. That’s right: despite widespread COVID outbreaks in jails and prisons across the country, policymakers are disinclined to prioritize inmates from the deadly and highly contagious disease. In Nevada that is not the case; prisoners are in the second tier of the vaccination schedule. Nonetheless, COVID has had a dire impact on incarcerated populations in the state, and policies have sometimes been bizarre and out-of-sync with health guidelines.
Outbreaks Behind Bars
According to the Justice Policy Institute, the number of people behind bars in this country easily exceeds 1 million. In less than one year, there have been nearly 300,000 cases and 1,700 deaths due to COVID in prisons here in the United States. In Nevada, one-fifth of the prison population has already tested positive for the virus since it first hit the country. Transmission is a serious issue for incarcerated individuals due to cramped quarters and generally poor living conditions. Social distancing is a challenge for the confined, putting inmates in what one policy professor describes as high-risk circumstances.
Jails are particularly problematic because individuals are often held for a short time before being moved to other quarters or being released back into communities. After potential exposures it is possible these individuals bring the virus into other sections of the jail, or back out to their families, friends and co-workers.
A Problem with Tentacles
As facilities strive to mitigate the impacts of COVID within their systems, inmates are spending more time in their cells, with less ability to socialize with other inmates. Visitation is being reduced or eliminated, physical activities are all but shut down, and even cafeteria time has been impacted. All of this leaves inmates feeling anxious, frightened, and powerless.
In Nevada, one policy, in particular, leads to some head-scratching. Not only did the Nevada Dept. of Corrections fail to issue a mask mandate; it actually prohibited incarcerated individuals from wearing face coverings of any kind, citing it as an escape risk.
Certainly, those guilty of crimes are expected to pay their debt to society, often by serving time in jail and/or prison. But when did we, as a society, decide that committing a crime should result in the options of isolation, severe health issues, or even death?
Finally, another problem worth considering is the fact that correctional facility workers move in and out of incarcerated populations and the general public. The failure to appropriately address COVID within these facilities puts prisoners, staff, and the public at risk.
Fighting for Life
Inmates are in a fight for their lives. One current lawsuit claims that they are not provided with personal protective equipment, adequate access to testing, and necessary cleaning supplies. Quarantine procedures and social distancing protocols are allegedly insufficient and/or arcane. These issues are matters of justice; indeed, they are matters of life and death. If you or a loved one is looking for someone to go to bat on your behalf, you can feel confident in knowing that at Lobo Law, this is what we do; it is who we are. Contact our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers for a confidential consultation today.