It’s What They Want: COVID-19 is spreading in prisons

Politicians in the US are either too stupid to understand the problem of COVID-19 in prisons, or they want the disease to kill prison populations.  Either way, they shouldn’t be in charge.  Prisoners should among be the highest priority for vaccination. If a COVID-19 variant appears in the US and runs rampant in the population, it will likely appear in the cramped conditions of a prison where the disease is running unchecked.

In 2015, the US’s National Institutes of Health published the paper (linked below) about the spread of diseases in densely populated areas.

How urbanization affects the epidemiology of emerging infectious diseases

The world is becoming more urban every day, and the process has been ongoing since the industrial revolution in the 18th century. The United Nations now estimates that 3.9 billion people live in urban centres. The rapid influx of residents is however not universal and the developed countries are already urban, but the big rise in urban population in the next 30 years is expected to be in Asia and Africa. Urbanization leads to many challenges for global health and the epidemiology of infectious diseases. New megacities can be incubators for new epidemics, and zoonotic diseases can spread in a more rapid manner and become worldwide threats. Adequate city planning and surveillance can be powerful tools to improve the global health and decrease the burden of communicable diseases.

[. . .]

The rise of the new modern cities also creates potential risks and challenges in the aspect of emerging infectious diseases. Different risk factors in the urban environment can, for example, be poor housing which can lead to proliferation of insect and rodent vector diseases and geohelminthiases. This is connected to inadequate water supplies as well as sanitation and waste management. All contribute to a favourable setting for both different rodents and insects which carry pathogens and soil-transmitted helminth infections. If buildings lack effective fuel and ventilation systems, respiratory tract infections can also be acquired. Contaminated water can spread disease, as can poor food storage and preparation, due to microbial toxins and zoonoses (2). The density of inhabitants and the close contact between people in urban areas are potential hot spots for rapid spread of merging infectious diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the avian flu. Criteria for a worldwide pandemic could be met in urban centres, which could develop into a worldwide health crisis (8). Adequate city planning can be a key factor for better overall health, and such considerations must be in the mind of the governing bodies.

US politicians who read it likely thought about well off, gentrified areas with high incomes.  They likely said, “we can just wall off poor neighborhoods and compressed areas, like slums, favelas, ghettos and townships.”

If you doubt that, consider how they’re handling US prisons – or rather, mishandling them.  COVID-19 is running rampant and killing prisoners at many times the rate of the general population, and politicians say, “who cares?  they’re a low priority for vaccinations!  wealthy people first!”

The Marshall Project reports that one in five US prisoners has COVID-19, four times the general population.  The 1700 who have died are only the “official” count.  It’s likely the actual death toll is much higher and has likely been covered up.

1 in 5 Prisoners in the U.S. Has Had COVID-19

One in every five state and federal prisoners in the United States has tested positive for the coronavirus, a rate more than four times as high as the general population. In some states, more than half of prisoners have been infected, according to data collected by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press.

As the pandemic enters its tenth month—and as the first Americans begin to receive a long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine—at least 275,000 prisoners have been infected, more than 1,700 have died and the spread of the virus behind bars shows no sign of slowing. New cases in prisons this week reached their highest level since testing began in the spring, far outstripping previous peaks in April and August.

“That number is a vast undercount,” said Homer Venters, the former chief medical officer at New York’s Rikers Island jail complex.

Venters has conducted more than a dozen court-ordered COVID-19 prison inspections around the country and said, “I still encounter prisons and jails where, when people get sick, not only are they not tested but they don’t receive care. So they get much sicker than need be.”

Now the rollout of vaccines poses difficult decisions for politicians and policymakers. As the virus spreads largely unchecked behind bars, prisoners can’t social distance and are dependent on the state for their safety and well-being.

Prisoners absolutely are dependent on governments for care.  And that government that view them as disposable, cheap slave labour, governments that perpetrate the vicious fiction that “prisoners deserve whatever happens to them”.  Just like China.

As the news item below reports, prisoners are NOT isolated.  Prison guards, doctors, maintenance staff and others regularly go in and out of prisons.  This is likely how COVID-19 got into prisons, and likely how any variants get out.



    • says

      How about those overcharged for marijuana “offenses”? How about those falsely convicted by a racist and corrupt “legal system”? Or do you erroneously believe there aren’t any innocents in US prisons?

    • says

      Your assumption that those groups are anywhere near a majority or even a plurality in the prison population means the right-wing propaganda on this issue has been highly effective on you.

  1. says

    Even if you don’t care about the prisoners themselves, it’s a really bad idea to have a standing reservoir of infected people who are in regular contact with guards who will go back out into the community.

  2. says

    If you look at the NYT’s vaccine statistics, it appears that the Fed Bureau of Prisons got a lot of vaccines, but only enough for wardens, etc. – The prisoners are going to just get [left out]. In fact it seems as though the BOP deliberately transferred inmates during the outbreak in order to infect more. But that’s conspiracy theory-level thinking, isn’t it?

  3. jrkrideau says

    Politicians in the US are either too stupid to understand the problem of COVID-19 in prisons, or they want the disease to kill prison populations.

    I fail to see why the “or”.

    @ 1 WMDKitty
    Other than the gov’t, presumably even the US and US states, have a duty of care to prisoners this might be of interest:
    Using data from Cook County Jail—one of the largest known nodes of SARS-CoV-2 spread in the United States—in Chicago, Illinois, we analyzed the relationship between jailing practices and community infections at the ZIP code level. We found that jail–community cycling was a significant predictor of cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), accounting for 55 percent of the variance in case rates across ZIP codes in Chicago and 37 percent of the variance in all of Illinois. Jail–community cycling far exceeds race, poverty, public transit use, and population density as a predictor of variance.

    @ Intransitive
    I am pretty sure I have heard our revered Leader of the Opposition opposing priority vaccinations for prisoners—he is not too bright either.

    @ Marcus Ranum
    But that’s conspiracy theory-level thinking, isn’t it?

    Indeed, Of course some conspiracies are real. See
    Claus von Stauffenberg

  4. Numenaster, whose eyes are up here says

    I’m finding that people’s views on vaccinating prisoners are a good proxy for their willingness to prioritize vaccination based on science versus basing it on some sense of who is worth more to society.