D'Netrus Chevis-Rose/Courier Inmates walk around the premises of a bright but dull space, inside a Southern California prison in 2020. Now that vaccines are becoming increasingly available for prisoners, COVID-19 is becoming less of a threat to lives inside state prisons.
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Being stuck at home has been unpleasant for many people to say the least. However, being able to quarantine in one’s own home with the promise of privacy and safety is something that incarcerated Americans can only dream about. With no masks, no safety precautions, and no care for one’s well being, prisoners have dealt with the worst of the pandemic, and it doesn’t seem like it’ll be getting better.

Incarcerated people in the United States have always dealt with discrimination, and the matter of the inhuman conditions of prisons is often brushed aside. COVID has simply amplified those conditions, and poses the question of how much more suffering is needed before something is done to help?

Prisons all across the United States have undoubtedly been hit hardest by the coronavirus. Back in December, 1 in 5 prisoners throughout the country were positive for COVID-19, which was a rate 4 times higher than the rest of the population. Now in March, a year after the pandemic began, the virus has spread so through prisons, that many are beginning to reach herd immunity.

Incarceration in the U.S. has always been a huge issue; America has the highest rate of putting people away in the world, as well as one of the highest recidivism rates, the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend. When that many people are put in jail, it’s no surprise COVID spread so rapidly. But what was done to buffer the virus?

The answer is not much. If anything, COVID has brought to light just how unsafe prisons are for both the prisoners and correctional staff in them.

A few states began releasing some prisoners early, to lessen the amount of people in prisons. However, there were fewer paroles given in 2020 than in 2019, leading to many prison systems being at 90% capacity.

This overcrowding and under-funding led to a much higher death rate in prisons compared to the average rate of the country. Many prisons are beginning to reach herd immunity, which is due to the large amount of prisoners being infected with the virus.

Herd immunity may be seen as a good thing by some people; after all, it means the rate of infection and death rate drops. However, the virus killed nearly 2,000 prisoners, and that number is considered to be an underestimate. How can herd immunity be considered a blessing when it came at so great a cost?

Prisoners’ suffering is not ending there however. In Florida, private and state prisons are withholding vaccines from their inmates. No reason has been given for this, but for comparison, federally run prisons in the same state have already been given vaccines.

All of this just shows how COVID has been mishandled in prisons since the beginning, and it continues to be mishandled. This treatment of prisoners is indicative of a much deeper issue in America.

Inmates face prejudice both in and out of prison, and the indifferent attitude many politicians and citizens have towards their treatment is problematic. There is a persistent double standard, and one example of this is the inability to see loved ones infected with COVID.

Stories are shared all the time of family members being unable to visit their loved ones in the hospital, and it is considered heartbreaking. What about those who have loved ones in prison? Many family members were not even informed of their relatives being sick with COVID.

A family in Pennsylvania didn’t hear of an uncle being sick until a week after he was released from the hospital, and he had to tell them himself. At the age of 71, his family is now worried of further health problems that may stem from having the virus.

The vaccine needs to be readily available for prisoners, especially those over the age of 65 and with preexisting health conditions, just as it is for all other Americans. There isn’t anything that can be done to change the past, but future suffering can be prevented if prisoners were given the same care that has been extended to outside citizens.

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