Prison sentences could turn into death sentences amid the coronavirus pandemic, experts say. Mass releases could be the best strategy to save thousands of lives. | Conditions in some US prisons allow for the spread of the coronavirus. Cook County Jail has the most confirmed cases of the coronavirus in a US jail.

Prison sentences could turn into death sentences amid the coronavirus pandemic, experts say. Mass releases could be the best strategy to save thousands of lives.

Prison sentences could turn into death sentences amid the coronavirus pandemic, experts say. Mass releases could be the best strategy to save thousands of lives.

Prison sentences could turn into death sentences amid the coronavirus pandemic, experts say. Mass releases could be the best strategy to save thousands of lives.

Prison sentences could turn into death sentences amid the coronavirus pandemic, experts say. Mass releases could be the best strategy to save thousands of lives.

Prison sentences could turn into death sentences amid the coronavirus pandemic, experts say. Mass releases could be the best strategy to save thousands of lives.

Prison sentences could turn into death sentences amid the coronavirus pandemic, experts say. Mass releases could be the best strategy to save thousands of lives.
Prison sentences could turn into death sentences amid the coronavirus pandemic, experts say. Mass releases could be the best strategy to save thousands of lives.
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class="bi_image size-medium wp-image-3374018" alt="Marvin Caldwell, 63, looks out of his cell at San Quentin state prison in California on June 8, 2012." bisrc="https://i.insider.com/5e860ab7487c225d6e41a876">
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Marvin Caldwell, 63, looks out of his cell at San Quentin state prison in California on June 8, 2012.
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Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
  • Disease spreads rapidly in jails since people are living in tight spaces, which makes the coronavirus pandemic a serious issue for US federal prisons.
  • Cook County Jail in Chicago now has 355 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, more than any other jail in the US, according to an April 8 New York Times report.
  • Of the 146,000 inmates in US federal prisons, about 10,000 are over 60, an age group the CDC deems high-risk for severe and potentially fatal cases.
  • To combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, some US city jails, like Rikers Island in New York, are releasing select inmates over the age of 70 who are particularly high-risk for COVID-19, and President Donald Trump recently announced that he is considering implementing a similar policy on a federal level.
  • Here’s why a mass release of federal inmates might be the best strategy to save thousands of lives.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

There are about 146,000 inmates in US federal prisons. About 10,000 of those are over the age of 60, which the CDC deems high-risk for severe cases of the coronavirus.

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Inmates walk in San Quentin state prison in California on June 8, 2012.
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Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


For decades, health officials have warned that jails and prisons are ideal environments for virus outbreaks.

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Inmates serving a jail sentence make a phone call at Maricopa County’s Tent City jail in Phoenix, Arizona, on July 30, 2010.
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Joshua Lott/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


As of April 8, Cook County Jail in Chicago has 355 confirmed cases of coronavirus — the highest in any US jail since the pandemic began, according to a New York Times report.

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A man being booked into Chicago’s Cook County Jail sleeps on the floor of a holding pen while he awaits his intake interview in 2014.

Source: The New York Times


Dr. Burton Bentley II, an emergency medicine physician and founder of the consulting firm Elite Medical Experts, told Business Insider that the confines of US prisons are often “fertile grounds for infectious disease” because of how tightly packed they are.

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Inmates at Maricopa County’s jail in Phoenix, Arizona, on July 30, 2010.
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Reuters/Joshua Lott

Source: Business Insider


Josiah Rich, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Brown University, Scott Allen, professor of medicine emeritus at the University of California at Riverside, and Mavis Nimoh, executive director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at the Miriam Hospital, wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post stating that releasing prisoners is necessary to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

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A woman sits in a cell at the Los Angeles County Women’s jail in Lynwood, California, in 2013.
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Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Source: The Washington Post


David E. Patton, head of the federal public defender’s office in New York, backed this in conversation with the New York Times. He said, “by keeping more people in the jails, you are increasing the overall number of people who contract the virus … they are playing roulette with people’s lives.”

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The entrance to death row is seen at San Quentin state prison in California on June 8, 2012.
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Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Source: The New York Times


Many inmates share living spaces with toilets just a few feet away from where they sleep.

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Inmates walk around a gymnasium where they are housed due to overcrowding at the California Institution for Men state prison in Chino, California, on June 3, 2011.
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Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


At a minimum-security federal prison in Bennettsville, South Carolina, a correctional officer said inmates spend hours each day in rooms together where nearly 250 people could be gathered with no more than three feet between them.

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Inmates stand in a gymnasium where they are housed due to overcrowding at the California Institution for Men state prison in Chino, California, on June 3, 2011.
source
Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


In response to the coronavirus crisis, Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department takes its responsibility for its inmates seriously.

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US Attorney General William Barr at the Great Hall of the Justice Department in Washington, DC on Dec. 3, 2019.
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Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Source: Business Insider


“We want to make sure that our institutions don’t become Petri dishes,” he said in a press conference at Main Justice in Washington, DC, on March 26. “But we have the protocols that are designed to stop that, and we are using all the tools we have to protect the inmates.”

Source: Business Insider


Barr also sent a statement to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) saying that nonviolent, at-risk prisoners “might be safer serving their sentences in home confinement rather than in BOP facilities.”

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Barr testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be attorney general of the United States in 2019.
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Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


On March 17, Iran temporarily released 54,000 people from prison to prevent further spread of the virus, and some US cities followed suit.

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Prisoners walk in the exercise yard at San Quentin State Prison in California on April 20, 2015.
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Robert Galbraith/Reuters

Source: Business Insider, Business Insider


Several local governments across the US released thousands of elderly and low-level inmates to prevent further spread of the coronavirus in states like Texas, California, and New York.

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Administrative segregation prisoners take part in a group therapy session at San Quentin state prison in California on June 8, 2012.
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Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


On March 22, President Donald Trump said that he’s considering releasing elderly, nonviolent prisoners from federal prisons.

Source: Business Insider


On March 29, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his plan to release around 300 select city jail inmates over the age of 70 who have at least five pre-existing conditions making them high-risk for becoming infected with a severe case of the coronavirus, not including inmates with domestic violence or sexual offense charges.

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a news conference about the pandemic on March 17, 2020.
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REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

Source: Business Insider


The inmates being released had less than a year left to serve at Rikers Island, one of the biggest jails in the world. The city’s Department of Correction said 17 employees and 29 inmates there tested positive for the coronavirus on March 22.

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Signage is seen outside of Rikers Island, a prison facility, where multiple cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in New York City on March 22, 2020.
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Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Source: Business Insider, New York Post


There are about 7,000 inmates at Riker’s Island, and the Department of Justice reported poor living conditions within the facility, including abuse and violence, in 2014.

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Correctional officers work in the Enhanced Supervision Housing Unit at the Rikers Island Correctional facility in New York on March 12, 2015.
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Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Source: Insider


The New York Department of Correction told correction officers to follow “basic flu protocols such as covering nose/mouth when coughing or sneezing and washing hands frequently,” in a statement.

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Jail cells are seen in the Enhanced Supervision Housing Unit at the Rikers Island Correctional facility in New York on March 12, 2015.
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Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


This is nearly impossible for some. A staff member at a federal jail in South Carolina said staff restrooms are running out of soap.

Source: Business Insider


Jack Donson, who worked for the US Bureau of Prisons for more than 20 years, told Business Insider if an outbreak happens in the federal system, it likely won’t be because of lack of procedure, but rather because it wasn’t carried out.

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An inmate looks out from his cell in the Security Housing Unit at Corcoran State Prison in Corcoran, California, in 2013.
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Robert Galbraith/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


Inmates entering the federal prison system are supposed to be screened for coronavirus risk factors, checked for fever, and quarantined for 14 days.

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An inmate waits for a visitor at the California Institution for Men state prison in Chino, California, on June 3, 2011.
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Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


But inmates and advocates told the Associated Press that some inmates at the FCI Yazoo City in Mississippi and at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York were not tested or quarantined. There are confirmed cases at both facilities.

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Inmates exercise at the California Institution for Men state prison in Chino, California, on June 3, 2011.
source
Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


In an Associated Press report including interviews with several correctional officers, inmates, attorneys, and advocates, inmates said when they experience flu-like symptoms, there’s hardly guidance on what to do, and some are not tested for the coronavirus.

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An inmate patient is shown in his cell at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, California, on March 17, 2010.
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Robert Galbraith/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


Over in Beaumont, Texas, Joseph Plany, an inmate at a federal prison camp, told the Associated Press that the medical unit turned away another inmate who sought treatment for respiratory symptoms.

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A guard looks on near the wall of the prison unit in Huntsville, Texas, on Jan. 22, 2014.
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Reuters/Richard Carson

Source: Business Insider


Prison staff members in Florida and South Carolina told the Associated Press that inmates have been allowed to be closer than the six-foot recommendation.

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A Florida state prison.
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David Manning/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


On March 21, the first inmate in the federal prison system tested positive for the coronavirus at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York.

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Barricades are seen at an entrance to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York
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REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Source: Bloomberg



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