Battered by a wave of coronavirus infections and deaths, local jails and state prison systems around the United States have resorted to a drastic strategy to keep the virus at bay: shutting down completely and transferring their inmates elsewhere, The New York Times reported on Saturday.
“From California to Missouri to Pennsylvania, state and local officials say that so many guards have fallen ill with the virus and are unable to work that abruptly closing some correctional facilities is the only way to maintain community security and prisoner safety,” said the Times report.
The paper quoted experts as saying that the fallout is easy to predict. The jails and prisons that stay open will probably become even more crowded, unsanitary and disease-ridden, and the transfers are likely to help the virus proliferate both inside and outside the walls.
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, according to a NYT database, among those statistics are the nearly 100,000 correctional officers who have tested positive and 170 who 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 in order to reduce their populations, but those efforts often met with resistance from politicians and the public,” said the report.
More recently, as arrests in many areas have increased, jail populations have returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to data collected by the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit research and policy group based in New York.
“That fact, combined with widespread infections among correctional officers, staffing shortages stretching back many years and strains on prison medical facilities, have pushed states as the pandemic progresses toward more concentration and crowding, rather than less, in part through closure of strained facilities,” said the Times report.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States topped 20 million on Friday as the discovery of a highly contagious new virus strain in the country has increased pressure to speed up the vaccination process. The United States reported over 20.1 million cases and more than 347,000 related deaths Friday afternoon, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.
The country, which makes up about 4 percent of the world’s population, now accounts for nearly one-quarter of over 83.8 million cases and 19 percent of the 1.8 million deaths reported worldwide, showed the university’s data.