COVID-19 Exposes Inhumanity in the Social Justice System

Nov 23, 2020 | Health, Justice, Race & Ethnicity


COVID-19 has and continues to impact each of us differently; however, the pandemic has further revealed how the United States has continuously failed to address the country’s disparities. COVID-19 has shown Americans that minority communities are the most vulnerable and at-risk, specifically within the healthcare system. The U.S. also faces a pandemic of systemic racism and social injustice, and marginalized populations are inevitably affected by the healthcare system. 

This article investigates how social equity is lost in the prison setting and how COVID-19 has revealed insight into those inequities. Detainees have little to no power in the prison setting; instead, they are under the prison’s jurisdiction. Correctional officers and wardens face little oversight and can often do whatever they please inside those brick walls, therefore abusing their power. The pandemic and the resulting predicament of detainees have uncovered our criminal justice framework’s tangled rationale and structure. Unfortunately, among the many issues affecting the nation, there are two pandemics harming minorities, COVID-19 and over-incarceration. 

Due to instances of police brutality in many states and around the world this past summer, recent protests provoked indignation in communities where hurting was unbearable. The streets were militarized, and officers often deterred peaceful protesters at large. The insurgency of residents detained for exercising their rights to protest significantly impaired bail access, which caused routine bail hearings to be postponed by weeks. The selection of a virtual court framework likewise exasperated legal postponements. This postponement provoked an infringement of the Constitutional rights to an expedient preliminary. 

The prison setting cannot control COVID-19, since prisoners often don’t have the ability to isolate. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, just 7% of respondents revealed that their imprisoned friends and family had sufficient access to fundamental necessities to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Medicare benefits cease at the time of incarceration, and those who turn 65 while in custody are disproportionately affected by that decision. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has outlined explicit rules to alleviate the spread of the infection, but because of the lack of equipment and accessibility in the prison system, inmates are at risk of transmitting the virus to each other and the guards. Twelve percent of those held in jails nationally, and over a third in some states, are in facilities with no ICU beds, which creates a substantial risk for infection. As of April 22nd, 293 individuals were held in NYC prisons for specialized parole infringement, which implies decarceration is happening at a slow rate. 

Call to Action and Curbing the Spread of Covid-19 

Given the toll COVID-19 has taken on our correctional facilities and jails, now is the ideal opportunity for government, state, and local officials to put public health before punishment by forestalling the quick spread. One example of how this can be done is by giving ICE detainees far and wide release from an unsafe environment by returning them to their respective communities. We must create a pathway to allow incarcerated people to have an ensured right to fundamental medical care needs, including actual physical comfort for the individuals experiencing pregnancy or any medically challenged condition. Every year in jail takes two years off a life expectancy. With over 2.3 million people locked up, mass imprisonment has shortened the overall U.S. life expectancy by five years. Ninety-three percent of states lock up their death row detainees for at least 22 hours out of each day. Many detainees live under conditions of extraordinary social detachment and upheld inaction with restricted sanitation services. 

Medical leadership at prison facilities should provide all residents with immediate education regarding COVID-19. By doing this, prisoners will better understand why cohorts are transforming into smaller communities and why social distancing is a priority. All occupants should get clear guidelines for safely socializing and moving between their lodging units and gathering spaces (for entertainment, pill call, container, and clinical and psychological well-being treatment as needed). Meals should be beneficial to help support resistant frameworks and served in-cell if possible. If not practical, suppers should be served so that social distancing between cohorts is achieved. All adults aged 55 or older or with chronic medical conditions should receive daily verbal screening for fever, cough, and respiratory pain symptoms. Admittance to safe yet dependable methods for correspondence with loved ones outside of the jail should be improved during this crisis, especially for inmates with terminal illnesses and medically challenging conditions. 

As our country prepares to address the arising and conceivably longstanding public health crisis presented by COVID-19, change advocates in the United States call for fast decarceration. Accordingly, correctional facilities must take more extensive measures to protect their populations, taking actions equivalent to a most pessimistic scenario. Around the world, governments and decision-makers have neglected to restrict the spread of COVID-19 in jails, prompting an expanding number of infections and COVID-19 related deaths among detained populations. As underscored by the World Health Organization, nearby endeavors to control COVID-19 are likely to fail if authorities do not adopt strong measures in prisons and other places of detention.

Additional References

Prison Policy Initiative. “Health impact: Public health, access to healthcare, and mortality.”

“Correctional Facilities In The Shadow Of COVID-19: Unique Challenges And Proposed Solutions.” Health Affairs Blog. March 26, 2020.

Government Accountability Office. “COVID-19 Potential Impact on Prisons’ Populations and Health Care Costs.”

The Indian Express. “Push for repopulation of prisons during a pandemic is reckless.”

Featured image from Unsplash.