ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Prisons can be incubators for spreading contagions, and advocates say officials need to take more measures to prevent the coronavirus from spreading behind bars.
Federal and most state prisons, including those in Maryland, have banned visits to keep inmates safe. But Tyrone Walker, a formerly incarcerated associate with the Justice Policy Institute, said that’s not enough. He said officials need to end overcrowding and give parole to the elderly to keep incarcerated people safe.
“People who are currently incarcerated are housed on top of each other. And they’re asking us about the coronavirus to get, you know, to have some space,” Walker said. “Well, that’s not allowed while you’re incarcerated.”
The majority of America’s incarcerated population is held in state facilities. The Maryland correctional department said no coronavirus cases have been reported in its jails and prisons. But no inmates have as yet been tested.
Of the more than 2 million people incarcerated in the U.S., about 165,000 are 55 or older. Those older people are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
People in jail and prison also are more likely to report having a chronic condition or infectious disease, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Walker said prisons should consider releasing older incarcerated people with other high-risk factors.
“One of the things that the prisons can do is release those who are considered geriatric within their population,” he said. “They’re no risk to public safety, and they can be safely released back into the communities.”
Maryland imprisons 3,000 people age 50 and older, and nearly 1,000 who are 60 or older. As of Sunday, no states have reported coronavirus outbreaks in any prison in the United States.