The COVID-19 pandemic is shedding light on how quickly infections spread in confined areas, such as in Virginia prisons and jails. Older adults and those with certain medical conditions are at a heightened risk of experiencing severe and potentially life-threatening illnesses after exposure to COVID-19. Given the accelerating rate of COVID-19 infections throughout the world, it is inevitable that almost every Virginia prison and jail will experience an outbreak to some degree. The rapid spread of the disease may have devastating effects on the well-being of those who work or are confined to Virginia prisons and jails.
In response to the growing concern of the health and safety of incarcerated individuals, corrections officers, and those that live in communities near these facilities, the World Health Organization (WHO) has provided guidance for responding to COVID-19 outbreaks in detention facilities. Included in this guidance is the importance of wide-scale testing, screening, and treatment for the infection. Despite, incarceration, individuals at these facilities maintain the constitutional right to appropriate healthcare treatment and services.
The WHO’s recommendation is challenging for Virginia correctional facilities because the guidance is not tailored to these types of environments. First, testing and screening for COVID-19 is the most critical part of mitigating the spread of the infection; however, it is unclear whether communities are requesting and receiving enough tests to account for the prison population. Further, most correctional institutions lack the appropriate number of medical supplies, such as personal protective equipment, ventilators, and oxygen tanks. Additionally, because these facilities typically place security over an inmate’s health when allocating resources, they tend to lack an appropriate number of healthcare workers. Given the relationship between correctional officers and incarcerated individuals, it is almost impossible for these facilities to abide by the Centers for Disease Control recommendations on social distancing.