Coronavirus raises concerns in jails and prisons

Hand sanitizer and other cleaning supplies are considered contraband in many prisons

Since the coronavirus outbreak, public health officials have emphasized washing hands after touching surfaces like doorknobs and stocking up on household essentials like toilet paper. It can be easy to forget, however, that a large number of Americans who are jailed or in prison and who don’t have these daily liberties might be susceptible to the virus, too.

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The United States locks up more people per capita than any other comparable nation, according to a report in the Prison Policy Initiative. As of 2018, it said, there were more than 2 million people jailed nationwide. And prison conditions are not always ideal.

In some instances, two dozen inmates share a single toilet, Gothamist reported. In other cases, clothes and bedsheets go days without being washed. There’s little hot water and soap to go around, and many facilities consider hand sanitizer to be contraband.

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At the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City, for example, a 60-year-old inmate told his lawyer that he hadn’t been able to shower in more than two weeks. And at the city’s main jail complex, Rikers Island, officials face concerns that they may not be able to contain an outbreak due to cramped living conditions and inmates’ lack of basic cleaning supplies.

Neither facility immediately responded to a request for comment from FOX Business, but with more cases of COVID-19 being confirmed in New York and across the country, criminal justice advocates are raising alarms about the likelihood of an outbreak hitting a prison.

“New York’s incarcerated populations are particularly vulnerable due to close confinement and, too often, subpar conditions,” Khalil A. Cumberbatch, a formerly incarcerated New Yorker and strategist with New Yorkers United for Justice Chief, told Gothamist.

A spokesperson for the Correctional Health Services told Gothamist, too, that it is actively screening patients at pre-arraignment and before they hit the jail system in order to “recognize, isolate, and monitor as appropriate, individuals who may be high risk.”

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Additionally, nonprofit group Federal Defenders has been lobbying the federal Bureau of Prisons for updates on virus preparedness.

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