'He Will Die': Prisoners' Family Members Are Petrified As Coronavirus Spreads

Angelina Chapin
(Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/HuffPost; Photos courtesy of Michelle Lind, Malaika Canada, and Marlene Aloe)

America’s inmates are extremely vulnerable to the coronavirus. Experts have said prisons and jails are “tinderboxes” for an outbreak, since inmates live in close quarters, do everything in group settings and have minimal access to cleaning supplies or decent medical care. The virus’ spread could be deadly for the many prisoners who already suffer from health issues such as diabetes, lung disease or cancer. And about 125,000 U.S. inmates are over the age of 55, one of the demographics most likely to die from the coronavirus. 

Inmates’ family members are terrified that their loved ones could be infected by COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and they are powerless to help them. They told HuffPost that prisons and jails are not taking the necessary precautions to protect endangered prisoners.

Inmates call home to say correctional officers aren’t telling them anything about the virus and that they can’t keep their hands clean because hand sanitizer is contraband and soap costs money. Prison staff and detainees around the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19, but guards aren’t wearing masks or gloves, and they aren’t practicing social distancing. Sick inmates say their medical requests are ignored, and that their cellmates with symptoms are also not being tested or treated. 

Prisons and jails have stopped social visits to protect detainees, which means their family members have to rely on phone calls to find out what’s going on. They panic at the sound of a ringtone. They say facilities don’t answer their basic questions about the precautions being taken to prevent an outbreak. They worry their sons and husbands will end up hospitalized or dead. 

Jails in states including New York, Ohio and California have begun to release low-level offenders or sick detainees. But advocates and lawmakers say these efforts fall short, and on Tuesday they told President Donald Trump that elderly and sick people in federal facilities should be let...

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