At least 2,575 federal and state prisoners in the United States have died after being infected with COVID-19 as of April 27, 2021. One in five state and federal prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19, according to The Marshall Project.
The root cause of these deaths is the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), mostly medical-grade masks, in prisons. Masks are often not provided to prisoners or required to be worn. Twenty-four states in this country, including N.H., do not uphold mask mandates for inmates and, therefore, do not provide PPE to them, according to prisonpolicy.org. This action rips the inmates’ freedom and sense of personal choice away from them. It should be a violation of the Eight Amendment, no cruel and unusual punishment, to force any person into dangerous situations like a COVID outbreak.
The worst part of the issue is the loss of choice. The inmates may want to protect themselves from the outbreak, but many are in small cells with a minimum of one or two cellmates. This means they have no way of remaining socially distant and, on top of that, they are not provided PPE to protect themselves. Prisoners at Rikers Island, the main prison for New York City, were at the center of the pandemic in March and April of 2020. According to a CNN article, the state deceived the public into thinking they were doing their part, but accounts from the inmates told a different story. Inmates began using whatever items they could get their hands on to protect themselves. This included using do-rags and t-shirts as masks as well as stealing alcohol pads from the medical center to clean high-touch areas.
No matter who they are, people should never be left defenseless against infectious disease. Most of the men and women who are serving time in state and federal prisons were not given the death sentence, but denying PPE during a COVID-19 outbreak will lead them to a similar fate. With such a high prison population in the United States, we are telling 2.3 million people that their lives don’t matter and that is not okay.
Meeghan Somerset can be contacted at: