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March 25, 2020

"You’re going to see devastation that’s unbelievable" says former director of Colorado Department of Corrections

The quote in the title of this post jumped out at me as I reviewed this lengthy new Stateline piece headlined "‘Prisons Are Bacteria Factories’; Elderly Most at Risk." Here is context and excerpts from the piece:

As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the globe, prisoner advocates are warning of the potential for a disastrous outbreak among inmates.  The elderly are most vulnerable, and the U.S. inmate population is aging.  Jails and prisons, crowded places where social distancing is nearly impossible, are breeding grounds for contagious disease.

“These prisons are bacteria factories,” said Rick Raemisch, a consultant and former executive director at the Colorado Department of Corrections. “I don’t think people understand the gravity of what’s going to happen if this runs in a prison, and I believe it’s inevitable.  “You’re going to see devastation that’s unbelievable.”...

While state prisons have resisted calls to release inmates, several large county and municipal jurisdictions have freed hundreds of jail inmates deemed low-risk, including seniors and those in poor health.  New Jersey plans to release as many as a thousand people from its county jails, including inmates jailed for probation violations and those sentenced for low-level offenses.  Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that New York City may release more than 200 inmates, according to news reports.  Los Angeles County and Ohio’s Cuyahoga County also have released prisoners.

Prisoner advocacy groups in more than a half-dozen states, including Texas, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Michigan, have called on governors to release state prisoners, especially elderly inmates, through compassionate release or medical furlough....

State prison systems so far have sidestepped requests to release inmates. Instead, they are disinfecting more frequently and tightening screening at prison entrances, among other measures....  The prison system is emphasizing hand-washing and doing what it can to promote social distancing despite the obvious limitations in a prison environment, said Jeremy Desel, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “We’re doing everything we can in our power to socially distance folks as much as possible by slowing down offender movements and various other techniques,” he said, “but given the circumstances there will be times when there will be more people in one place than anybody would like.”...

Long before the emergence of the coronavirus, prison officials and state lawmakers across the country were concerned about elderly prisoners.  Patrick O'Daniel, chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, told board members in late February that the number of Texas inmates 55 or older is growing by nearly a thousand a year and has doubled over the past decade.

The aging baby boomers now comprise nearly 15% of the more than 140,200 men and women in Texas prisons. Nationwide, nearly 12% of inmates in state and federal prisons are older than 55.  Like their counterparts on the outside, elderly prisoners make up the lion’s share of health care costs, putting intense pressure on government budgets.  Over a 10-year period ending in 2019, health care costs for the elderly in Texas prisons increased from $51.8 million to $114.7 million, encompassing often complicated and costly treatments for illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, hepatitis and a whole host of other aging-related ailments.

Prior coronavirus posts highlighting need for urgent action on imprisonment amidst epidemic:

March 25, 2020 at 03:27 PM | Permalink


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