The fate of inmates is at risk during COVID-19 crisis

Inmates fear prison system is not equipped to handle possible COVID-19 outbreak. Photo courtesy Getty

The pandemic that shocked the nation has made its way to prison systems. COVID-19 has caused state and local governments acrossthe country to make tough decisions regarding the well-being of inmates.

There have been numerous concerns on whether or not prisons are taking the necessary precautions to curb the spread of the disease and inmates refuse to stay silent.

Rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine, whose real name is Daniel Hernandez, was released from jail amid concerns that he could potentially contract the disease while behind bars.

“COVID-19 presents a heightened risk for incarcerated defendants like Mr. Hernandez with respiratory ailments such as asthma,” U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer told NBC News.

Hernandez was not the only celebrity to plead for an early release. High profile prisoners including singer R. Kelly, comedian Bill Crosby, and lawyer Michael Avenatti were among those who requested release.

Perhaps, they requested release in order to avoid the very thing that happened to rapper YNW Melly. It was reported that the 20-year-old rapper contracted the disease while in jail where he was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. He is just one, out of the hundreds of inmates to contract the disease. For some, their fate was worse.

The country’s most notorious jail is under fire after it was announced that an inmate died from contracting the coronavirus. New York’s Rikers Island complex has been under scrutiny for years because of its horrible conditions, but now, more than ever, public defenders and criminal justice advocates are demanding the release of inmates in hopes of reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Is granting early release to inmates the right call to help prevent the spread of the disease? What necessary precautions are jails taking to prevent the mass spread of COVID-19 behind prison walls? These are the tough questions state and local officials should have to answer.

Over 700 people have tested positive for the virus on Rikers Island, it is very apparent that the “proactive measures” being taken to improve the conditions at the jail are not effective. It should not take the death of an inmate for officials to ensure that those who are incarcerated receive proper health care along with basic humane living conditions.

After speaking with Shade McMillian, a Public Information Officer at Leon County Sheriff’s Office, it seems as if some are indeed making an effort to stop the threat.

“All in-person visitations were suspended,” McMillian said.

Among suspended visitations, a selection of employees will work from home and the front lobby will be closed.

Officials say social distancing is one of the main ways to avert risks of contracting the disease. There spiratory illness spreads from person to person mainly through close contact which is one reason inmates are concerned about their health.

Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford spoke with WJHG News of Panama City, Florida about what would take place next.

“The at-risk inmates, those 60 and older or compromised or with underlying health conditions, we created an open dorm for them prior to the situation taking off. We have them separated off into isolation,” Ford said.

State and local officials who are diligently working to thwart the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and jails should be applauded. If we continue to stand up for those whose voices the government continues to disregard, they will have no choice but to take action.