Combating Coronavirus in Prisons

This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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The Wrong Types of Criminals are Being Released in the Effort to Combat Coronavirus

While the rest of us are doing our utmost to avoid human contact, prisoners don’t have that option. They are kept in open, close quarters conducive to spreading the coronavirus. In combating Coronavirus in prisons, officials are letting some inmates out of prison trying to lower the risk. US Attorney General William Barr released a memorandum to the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, encouraging the use of home confinement for vulnerable and low-risk inmates. He said the agency has 10,000 inmates over the age 60, and at high risk due to their age or other health problems. One-third of those would not qualify since they were convicted of violent or sex crimes. Contracting the virus turns their prison sentence into a death sentence. The alternative would be to release them to home detention.

Prisoners are not Immune From Coronavirus

It is quite disconcerting that the prisons are not using good judgment in regards to who they are freeing. Lower level offenders are being released, and those caught committing lower level offenses are merely cited and released. But some of these “lower level offenses” sound pretty violent. Philadelphia Police Chief Danielle Outlaw told officers to stop arresting people for crimes such as burglary and vandalism. Depending on the type of burglary, it can be a violent crime. Business burglaries have increased 75% since the pandemic started. Vandalism goes hand in hand with that. Chain retailers have been forced to board up their shops. Why would we make looting, vandalism and burglaries, at this time, easier? 

The Elderly and Sick, Non-Violent Prisoners Must Be Released

In contrast, many elderly, nonviolent prisoners are not being released. This is troubling considering how badly the virus is spreading in prisons. A federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana stopped testing inmates for the coronavirus due to how much it has spread there. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) confirmed seven inmates tested positive for the virus, but the agency has not released the number of presumed positive cases. One inmate has died. A maintenance worker told Vice 68 inmates are being quarantined. An inmate told Vice, “Everyone in the facility is sick and coughing.” The inmates sleep in bunk beds with no way to isolate or socially distance. 

BOP confirms inmates at six of its facilities around the country have contracted the virus. Yet BOP continues to transfer inmates, increasing the risk of spreading the virus. Inmates are prohibited from having hand sanitizer since it contains alcohol. “A jail is essentially a petri dish. Once the virus gets in there, it could have a devastating effect,” said Public Defender Keith Lotridge of Maryland. Ross MacDonald, chief physician at Rikers Island jail in New York, issued a warning. “We cannot socially distance dozens of elderly men living in a dorm, sharing a bathroom. Think of a cruise ship recklessly boarding more passengers each day,” he wrote on Twitter. “A storm is coming…”

Prisoners and Guards Are Vulnerable

Former Republican Congressman Steve Stockman is wrongfully in prison due to a politically charged Obama administration DOJ. Stockman is over 60, has diabetes (considered high risk for the coronavirus), and a lung condition. Still incarcerated, he feels he’s under a ticking time bomb. He said jail staff instructed the inmates to “shelter in place” for 14 days. Stockman said, “Forcing inmates to stay near each other for 14 days is like telling people on a ship the best solution is to all get everyone together in one room to stop the spread.”

He cannot go outside to get away from the other inmates, as that has been banned due to the shutdown. They turned the air conditioning very cold in the hopes doing so will stop the virus. It’s probably just spreading it quicker through the ducts. He told me, “They are turning the warehouse into a hospital for prisoners. We are jokingly calling it a morgue for us.”

Combating coronavirus in prisons must be a priority for the safety of prisoners and guards. Letting all of these elderly inmates linger is also putting correctional officers at risk. A guard who works inside the Arizona State Prison Complex in Tucson said they are not allowed to wear face masks. This is ostensibly to avoid creating panic, but the inmates already know what is going on because they watch the news. The prison said that they did not want to take away critical supplies from medical personnel. This is understandable, but what about wearing bandannas?

Why are They Ignoring Barr?

Stockman says it’s bizarre that Iran, perhaps the most oppressive country in the world, has released 85,000 of its prisoners. The US, by comparison, is just letting a few types out. The prisons are mostly ignoring the directive from Barr about the sick and elderly nonviolent prisoners. Of those who have called for the release of elderly, at risk prisoners include 14 Democratic and Republican senators, Charles Grassley and Mike Lee among them, the ACLU, the American Conservative Union (ACU), over 40 former DOJ officials, and nine bipartisan advocacy organizations.

Stockman’s wife Patti has made a video for Trump, pleading for her husband’s release. When Republicans and Democrats join together on something, it must be taken seriously. Worth noting is that Japan has isolated the elderly and infirm. They have not shut down their economy and they have a low death rate. 

It is apparent, the deep unionized federal bureaucrats running the prisons think they are smarter than any professionals, including doctors. They may be holding back because some of the lower security prisons do work to support the higher security prisons. This would be an extremely selfish reason considering those whose lives are at stake. Does Barr realize they are ignoring his directive at combating coronavirus in prisons? How many have to die first? This is not the time for politics. At a minimum, Barr should have his staff working directly with the prisons to make sure the right inmates are released.

Rachel Alexander
NRN • New Right Network
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