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How Prisons Are Responding to the Coronavirus


Amid the outbreak of COVID-19, governments around the world have been scrambling to subdue the virus. Some tactics have been effective, such as social-distancing and quarantine. However, some of the measures taken are questionable as to if they are in the best interests of the public. Recently in the United States, several prisons have released inmates in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. We understand that these actions are clearly intended to be for the best interests of the public. However, we want to analyze the impact that this decision will have on both the general community, in addition to the inmates released.


Note that this article is not intended to criticize the decisions made by the legislature in America. Tackling COVID-19 is an extremely difficult feat and there are many things that we can all learn from the response to this pandemic.

COVID-19, also known as Coronavirus, has been an active pandemic since March 2020.

In Wuhan, China, in December 2019, health officials identified the first case of COVID-19. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a pandemic. At that point, there were 118,000 active cases internationally across 118 countries.

As of today’s date (April 7, 2020), there are currently 1,408,765 cases. Amongst these cases, there are 1,027,064 active cases internationally. Many legislative bodies around the world are implementing strict policies to try and combat the spread of the virus. Social distancing and physical distancing are two of the most common practices that governments are enforcing around the world. The World Health Organization is also launching a Global Humanitarian Response plan to combat the coronavirus in the most vulnerable countries who have been impacted.

On March 18, the first cases of coronavirus in a federal penitentiary were confirmed in America.

Since the first case was confirmed, cases of COVID-19 have been climbing at prisons across the country, both among inmate populations and staff. The spread of the coronavirus through the correctional system is now an increasing concern for the Justice Department.

Defence attorneys for high profile inmates have been pushing for the release of their clients. Attorney’s have found that in highly populous prisons, like Riker’s Island, inmates are cannot access the resources to protect themselves from the coronavirus. Also, the confined nature of these prisons makes it difficult for inmates to self-isolate. U.S. President Donald Trump has voiced his approval for the release of at-risk inmates from federal penitentiaries in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the prison system. Across America, federal penitentiaries are releasing low-level and non-violent offenders. Among these offenders are migrants and elderly people.


Overall, this is a risky tactic.

The main goal of the government is to protect the general society. In an attempt to protect society from the coronavirus, the justice system may be blind to other important concerns. For example, some potential issues may arise from releasing prisoners back into society without providing them with proper resources.

Source: LA Times

Research shows that long-term inmates lose connections with friends and family.

People who are incarcerated, especially for a long time, lose a connection with and understanding of the outside world in general. What is the point of releasing people from prison to protect them and others from contracting COVID-19, when they have no one to go home to? Released inmates who do not have a place to stay will most likely end up being on the streets. Without the resources to protect themselves from the coronavirus, they will likely contract the virus. Even if they do not contract the virus, there is a potential that these released inmates may turn to crime, to survive and obtain resources for themselves, thus increasing the crime rate.


Now, this is not the case for all released inmates; however, especially in the case of migrants, this is a likely outcome. Migrants, in particular, do not have resources nor an understanding of the country they’re being imprisoned in. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, does not have the resources to contain the millions of immigrants that they have in detention (which addresses a much bigger issue). While releasing migrants does slow the spread of COVID-19 in detention facilities, it contributes to a larger issue that the justice system has been battling for centuries.

In short, federal prison systems around the world are collectively unprepared to handle major health crises.


The Justice System in America, as well as many other countries, is significantly lacking in funding. Adequate conditions for inmates are not being granted to inmates in American prisons. This is partially due to overcrowding and ineffective justice models. Research shows that inmates experience violent and life-threatening situations while in prison. This includes including overcrowding, violence by other inmates and staff, and inhumane treatment. This research shows that the State is aware of these situations. It also insinuates that agents of the State are responsible for placing prisoners in these situations.

This is a violation of the right to safety and security.

For Americans, this is a violation of the Eighth Amendment. The lack of resources and spaces for inmates during the coronavirus pandemic is a violation of the right to safety and security. Of course, maintaining millions of inmates across the country is not an easy feat; however, they are human. We tend to view prisoners as inhuman which makes it easy to justify their mistreatment. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that prisoners deserve the basic resources that can help maintain their health.


Overall, the release of low-risk inmates is an effective plan.

This plan achieves the goal of reducing the spread of COVID-19 within an environment that poorly responds to health crises like the coronavirus. However, to ensure the protection and recidivism of the public and released offenders, these inmates should have housing and supervision confirmed before release. Released inmates should undergo transition preparations through low-contact programming. The justice system should monitor these inmates for a reasonable length of time. This can help to ensure a successful transition back into society.

The unprecedented nature of the coronavirus has left us all wondering how to respond to its impact. Weighing the pros and cons of releasing low-risk inmates is a complex task. While this article does cover some pros and cons, it does not consider them all. We would love to hear your input on the topic and encourage you to comment on your thoughts.

In conclusion, our experiences with coronavirus provide us with learning opportunities. Hopefully, we will all learn how to support our communities better through our experiences with this virus.

What are your thoughts?

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