Complex Made Simple

Every prison sentence is now a death sentence

While a majority of the world has the privilege of being able to social distance, prisoners at correctional facilities don't.

"At least 276 detainees and 172 staff members - mostly correctional deputies - at Cook County Jail have tested positive for coronavirus," CNN reported on a jail in Chicago late last week. "All I kept thinking was: what if I never get to see my family again?" an inmate at an Eastern New York correctional facility tells The Guardian As of this writing, COVID-19 cases have totalled 1,946,386, while deaths have readed 121,704

As a majority of the world continues to practice social distancing, as COVID-19 cases near the 2 million mark while deaths have hit 121,704, we have forgotten about a handful of locations that can’t really follow these precautions. In fact, these locations have become hotbeds for the novel coronavirus. 

In here, you can’t practice social distancing

Picture this. You’re in for a minor crime, you’ve regretted your actions by now and are looking to peacefully pass the next year and a half as you await release, looking to mend fences with your family. All of a sudden, the television in the lunch room begins sounding off some new words you haven’t heard before: coronavirus; COVID-19; Wuhan outbreak. Cut off from the world, you have no idea what this means. Is this some disease that’s surfaced in some distant country that’ll get a few weeks of press coverage at most and then die off? Probably.

A few weeks pass, and the scenario keeps repeating itself, but something is different with the words this time. “Wuhan outbreak” is now “pandemic,” “China” is now “the world.” “Hundreds of deaths” are now “hundreds of thousands of deaths.” What’s happening out there, you wonder out loud in the noisy, humid overcrowded lunch room. 

“Transmission occurs through droplet transfer. Refrain from touching your face, and practice social distancing at all times,” a reporter on the television says as a burly 30-something inmate hunched over by your left slurps his lunch, while a guy to your right sneezes into his plate.

“Lunch break’s over,” the guard yells. 

Soon, it is time to return to your room, where a dozen or so inmates are forced to sleep in close quarters. In other countries, it’s usually two in a cell, but you’re not that lucky, now, are you? 

The next day during an official assembly, you’re told by the warden that inmate 05910, who was sneezing beside you at lunch yesterday, has now been escorted to the hospital for testing positive for the coronavirus. By now, prisoners have a general idea of what this virus is, and a protest breaks out right there and then. Meanwhile, all you can think about is if you had washed your face after lunch yesterday.

You didn’t.

Soon, you’re shipped off to the hospital as well, and pre-existing health conditions you’ve struggled with since you were 11 force you to be put in the ICU. Stuck in bed with half a dozen machines surrounding you and pipes all over your face, you begin contemplating why your minor crime has now earned you a death sentence. 

“What if I never get to see my family again?”
The above might be a fictional account, but it is no fantasy. 

“At least 276 detainees and 172 staff members – mostly correctional deputies – at Cook County Jail have tested positive for coronavirus,” CNN reported on a jail in Chicago late last week. “Two detainees who tested positive for the virus have died as of Thursday, and more than 20 detainees are hospitalized.”

“All I kept thinking was: what if I never get to see my family again?” an inmate at an Eastern New York correctional facility asked The Guardian in a personal account of the crisis.

“In the California prison system, the number of inmates infected grew by more than 700% in just over a week,” CNN said.

Such is the nightmare of the prison system worldwide. However, some measures are being taken. 

“Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz has ordered the temporary suspension of the execution of final rulings and judicial orders related to imprisonment of debtors involved in private rights-related cases,” Gulf News reported this month. “The king also ordered the immediate release of those jailed in accordance of these rulings and judgments. The royal orders come in line with the kingdom’s efforts to limit the spread of coronavirus.”

As for Bahrain, it “recently released a ‘significant portion’ of its prison population as the country tries to contain the outbreak of coronavirus.”

In Turkey, is in the process of releasing 90,000 inmates to reduce the threat of the virus in the country’s overcrowded prisons. 

Worldwide, anti-coronavirus initiatives have begun taking place. From sanitizing assembly rooms, to offering face masks and gloves to prisoners, countries around the world are addressing the pandemic in their own way. 

In England and Wales, inmates with two months or less still to serve will be released on temporary licence in stages, the BBC said.

Still, this hasn’t nearly been enough to quell fear amongst inmates, who in some instances have taken to protests and vandalism to voice their concerns for the their lives. The situation is highly complex, with no clear solution to the issue at hand, as countries with an overflowing number of prisoners are set to be the most impacted.