The effects of Covid-19 on incarcerated individuals

Editor’s Note: Nola 2 Angola, which organizes an annual bicycle ride to Angola Prison to support and fund the Cornerstone Builders Bus Project, which connects families to their incarcerated loved ones, is happening October 17-19, 2021. In honor of that organization and the work they do, we’ll be running pieces focused around the prison industrial complex and those trying to fight against it. 


Throughout history, the health and needs of those behind bars have been an afterthought to most individuals in power and this current global pandemic has unequivocally proven this.

Covid-19 has run rampant through correctional facilities around the country due to lack of concern around the living conditions and their impact on the mental and physical health and stability of incarcerated individuals. More often than not, those who have not been personally affected by the oppressive nature of the criminal justice system are able to ignore the existence and struggles of the population within jails and prisons because they feel as though their issues do not apply to them. Because of this, issues such as the extremely high Covid-19 infection and death rates within these institutions and unsafe living conditions are currently being overlooked and undressed by most.

According to a study conducted by Megan Wallace within an unnamed detention facility the state of Louisiana, over 77% of the inmates who were tested for Covid-19 received a positive result.  The author makes sure to point out that the prominence of infectious diseases within these settings is largely due to the many overlapping risk factors within the population including their living situations in the prisons. Factors such as high rates of preexisting conditions, lack of access to quality health care, PPE and room to social has left those within jails and prisons completely exposed to and at a much higher risk of contracting this extremely contagious virus.

Prisons and jails are a breeding ground for Covid-19 due to the crowded and communal living conditions which make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to keep six feet apart. Now, not only do they have to worry about transmission between incarcerated individuals, but the employees also pose a threat to those on the inside. The staff with the ability to move in and out of the facility run the risk of either contracting the virus outside and bringing it into the general population or becoming infected while on the job and spreading it to others on the outside. It is important to analyze the role of all the people within the walls of these institutions because each one plays a role in the spread of the virus no matter their status or position. Unfortunately, it is clear through the statistics presented above that those who are affected most by the virus are the inmates. Not only are they cooped up within the walls of the building, but their pain and suffering is often ignored which makes the virus a bigger threat to their health. Society has had a tendency to treat incarcerated as second-class citizens devoid of humanity, yet in order to make any real progress in reforming the criminal justice system, every individual must acknowledge each other’s humanity with respect. This lack of care for others poses a threat within itself, as it allows those in power to excuse themselves from intervening in the inhumane treatment of those behind bars.

In many cities across the United States, the government’s refusal to acknowledge and address this clear threat to the population within correctional facilities has led countless individuals to contract and even succumb to Covid-19 during this pandemic. This is just another reason and example of why prison reform is necessary for the dismantling of institutionalized oppression, specifically within the criminal justice system.

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