Timothy Hicks wrote the following article well before the COVID-19 pandemic hit San Quentin. It foretells the disaster that would unfold at prisons generally and at San Quentin in particular.
The Corona Virus has hit the U.S., prompting a fear is that it may hit prisons, with many questioning its possible impact.
“Given the volume of incarcerated people in America, the conditions under which they are detained, and the current spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, there is every reason to question whether American detention facilities, as a whole, are up to the challenge,” said Nina J. Ginsberg, the president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
According to Business Insider, the US prison and jail systems have more than two million people incarcerated.
“They’re unique because these people are in tight confines, often tightly packed,” said Dr. Burton Bentley II, emergency medical physician and founder of the consulting firm Elite Medical Experts.
The respiratory virus has sickened almost 100,000 people worldwide, reported the Marshall Project. Almost 5000 people have died so far with many of the initial deaths in Wuhan, China where the virus originated.
At San Quentin, prison officials are taking preventive measures to stop the virus from spreading into the prison from the outside. They have shut down the visiting room at the prison, as well as all the volunteer-led programs.
“I’m going to miss my wife,” said Arthur D. Jackson. “But, she understands why they would do that, because if it got in here in this close environment it would spread like wildfire. Although, I am conflicted and I miss my wife I do understand and I know it is for the best,” said Jackson.
Earlier, college classes within the prison closed down because of the coronavirus.
“It’s disheartening,” said Jackson, who works as the main clerk for Mt. Tamalpais College (formally known as Patten College.) “It’s going to stagnate a lot of guys’ programs and put their education on hold. Some people are working on their A.A. degrees and earning credits that can reduce their time they spend in prison.”
“The suspension is a hiccup but I really commend the college staff for making that move to suspend its program voluntarily. It shows how much they really care for us in this community in prison,” Jackson added.
According to local news agencies, schools and other social gathering places were recently shut down and those elderly and most vulnerable to the virus were advised to stay home. Now, everyone in the six Bay Area counties has been told to “shelter in place.” Only those in the most essential services will continue to go to their workplaces.
“There is no way to stop it in prison,” said Don Specter, executive director of the Prison Law Office. Specter has been briefed by correctional officials on plans how to handle the COVID – 19 behind bars. This theory is based on protocols on how the prison system handled the flu virus.
In China, the prisons have become a hotbed for the new coronavirus, reported the Business Insider. Iran has already had outbreaks in their prisons of the Covid-19 virus.
According to a Prison Policy Initiative report, some of the considerations to combat the coronavirus:
Release medically fragile and older adults from prisons and jails. Those with complex medical needs are more than likely to be affected. That will reduce the need of care for those who have chronic illnesses. It will also help prevent them from being infected by viral infections like COVID-19. Iran has already given temporary leaves to a quarter of its prison population, said the report.
Other solutions the report lists: Lowering jail admissions to reduce “jail churns.” To reduce the churns some state leaders are re-classifying misdemeanor offenses, reducing parole or probation meetings and even eliminating parole and probation revocations for technical violations altogether.
A joint statement by 31 elected prosecutors from jurisdictions throughout the US supports such changes and also advocates for immediately releasing those who are within six months of finishing their sentences, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Meanwhile, Yale School of Public Health epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves blames the prisons for having many issues that are hazardous. “Prisons throw people into the paths of epidemics, whether it is TB or HIV or corona virus, said Gonsalves.” He continued, “People without proper ventilation is a perfect breeding ground for quick transmission of any respiratory virus.”
People who are incarcerated do have health care, but he doubts that it is adequate. “Prison healthcare isn’t what it should be,” said Gonslaves. “The question is whether the U.S., state and local correctional facilities are up to the task of preventing infections and whether they have necessary resources to care for the sick, and I’m not sure they are up to the task.”