The Stream

How is coronavirus impacting prisoners?

Experts warn the population at large is at risk if prisons are not protected from disease.

The coronavirus is sweeping through one of the world’s largest and most vulnerable populations – prisoners.

Experts are warning if there are not efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, the population at large will be unsafe. Panic among the world’s incarcerated populations has led to strikes, protests, escapes and, in some places, deadly riots.

Medical experts advise that regular hand-washing, maintaining social distance, disinfecting surfaces and seeking prompt medical attention if symptoms begin are effective ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

But those healthcare tips are difficult to observe for those behind bars. There are more than 10 million men, women and children in prisons worldwide and facilities are overcrowded in at least 121 countries, according to a 2019 report on global prison trends. Prisoners often share cells, space is at a premium in shared canteens and bathrooms, and it is difficult for inmates to practise effective hygiene. 

In March, the World Health Organization published guidelines on how to keep prisoners safe. It recommended taking regular temperature checks of inmates, releasing detainees where possible and eliminating visits. In this episode of The Stream we look at how prisons can protect some of society’s least-valued people from coronavirus infections.

This episode features:

Nicole Lewis, @nikklew
Staff writer, The Marshall Project

Olivia Rope, @livirope
Director of Policy and International Advocacy, Penal Reform International

Adnan Khan, @akhan1437
Executive Director, Re:Store Justice