Is Solitary Confinement Helping or Hurting COVID-19 Transmission in Prisons?
COVID-19 cases in prisons across the world are climbing. Even though isolation and quarantine have proven to help stop some of the spread, it may be a different story when it comes to solitary confinement inside prisons.
At the beginning of February, a New York Times database reported 580,000 positive coronavirus cases in prisons collectively. Out of those cases over 2,000 inmates have died from the virus.
The Marshall Project reports that these numbers are likely underestimated.
Doctors, attorneys, prison reform advocates and public health researchers are becoming increasingly concerned about the most common way prisons are isolating symptomatic inmates: solitary confinement.
Solitary confinement is a long-used form of torture used in prisons across the world. Since the start of the pandemic this isolation form has been used as less of a torture device, and more of a way to isolate inmates that may have coronavirus.
In the first months of the pandemic, prisons reported using solitary confinement at an increase of 500%. But unlike medical confinement, prisoners do not have access to have access to televisions, tablets, and ways to keep in touch with family and friends.
Some prisons don’t have the space or means to hold an excess number of prisoners in solitary confinement. Many prisons are implementing wide-spread lockdowns in order to stop the spread of coronavirus across an entire prison.
Some lawyers reported that inmates are being held in their cell for over 22 hours a day in prisons that have implemented unit-wide lockdowns.
This kind of widespread isolation has become common in prisons that have superspreader conditions such as minimal ventilation, limited protection gear, and overcrowding of inmates.
On average, the death rate for incarcerated inmates is three times higher than a regular person. This also increases the likelihood of severe illness or death if an inmate were to contract coronavirus, because of weakened immune systems, prior health concerns, or other factors.
Although solitary confinement is not necessarily a bad way to combat the spread of coronavirus, many experts are urging prisons to rethink the means of confinement. There is a call to mirror medical isolation and solitary confinement when being used for coronavirus purposes, instead of continuing to treat solitary confinement as a harsh form of punishment.
One suggestion is to give inmates in solitary confinement access to resources to help the time pass such as telehealth consultations, books, radio, games, and communication with loved ones.
Researchers also recommend capping the isolation period at 14 days, in accordance with the CDC guidelines.