Updated: Jun 5, 2020
We’ve been discussing the CoVid situation in the prisons with a variety of individuals in many fields; health care, custody professionals, other prison staff, former prisoners, current prisoners, workers in congregate living facilities outside of prisons. And the consensus is the same: because of the extreme transmissibility of the Corona virus, the fact that those who are asymptomatic are just as capable of being infective agents, and the finding that those with the virus ‘shed virus,’ or are most infective, 3-5 days prior to exhibiting any symptoms or feeling ill themselves, all collide to mean it was likely inevitable that the virus would enter the prisons, that there was virtually no way to completely keep CoVid out of the system.
This seems reflective of our situation out here, beyond the wire. There is virtually no area of society that hasn’t been breached by the CoVid virus, from the White House to homeless shelters. And those in congregate living situations (prisons, jails, nursing homes, hospitals) are more at risk because of those close quarters. Even the best precautions are often not enough.
From personal experience: my elderly aunt is in assisted living, a small facility that can manage with few workers. My brother was recently in a skilled nursing facility (SNF), a large facility with many workers and patients. Both locations stopped outside visiting early in the CoVid outbreak, as did CDCR. Both screened workers coming in daily. As did CDCR. Both took other precautions to prevent the introduction of the virus. As did CDCR.
My Aunt’s up-scale facility, with private apartments, has remained (to date, anyway) CoVid free, largely because they can social distance. But the toll of virtual isolation on residents, especially those, like my Aunt with dementia, has been severe. As it has been for many prisoners. My brother, in a larger facility and 2-3 patients in a room, contracted the Corona virus and was hospitalized, as were at least 25 other patients at the SNF, and yes, there were fatalities, though thankfully, not him.
Did one congregate living facility do something wrong and the other, something right? Both, probably. Because there is no absolute perfect response to this novel virus—that’s why it’s called a ‘novel’ virus, because it’s unlike anything before. So, there are no norms, no absolute solutions, no certainties. Everyone, from the CDC (the actual CDC, no R in the name) to hospitals to nursing homes to prisons, we’re all flying by the seat of our collective pants in trying to figure out best practices for safety and welfare.
The one thing that has held steady in all the changes has been the extreme transmissibility of the virus, person to person. That’s why I haven’t seen my Aunt in over 2 months. Couldn’t get in to see my brother had I been close enough to do so and I’m yelling into the phone from 400 miles away, trying to figure out what’s going on. Much like prison families.
That’s also why visiting in the prisons was shut down early on, remains shut down and may well be one of the last ‘normals’ reinstated. And, why it’s likely visiting will, like many other gatherings we’ve known, look different once it opens again. While it’s true that some folks have been able to ‘make appointments’ to visit via VPASS—that’s because VPASS, in its mindless, robotic way, just keeps running regardless of the actualities of the situation. Don’t trust it. Visiting isn’t open again just because VPASS gave you an appointment.
There are a few things I do know, however. There is no ‘evil intent’ by CDCR to infect prisoners—and if everyone would just take a breath for a moment and think about that, it’s pretty clear. Have they made missteps? Sure. And I’m getting pretty exasperated with those who, out of one side of their mouth complain that CDCR won’t let anyone go because they want to keep the population up for job security and out the other side yell that CDCR is trying to kill off the inmate population. Neither is true, and certainly both can’t be true at the same time.
The primary goal of CDCR is the old ‘safety and security,’ both of prisons and society. It’s a hoary old adage, but it’s true. And while safety includes keeping everyone inside as safe from medical problems as possible there is only so much possible in a custodial setting. Are they doing ‘everything?’ That’s probably up for discussion, but they are doing many things we’ve never seen before. And they’re doing some things I wish we weren’t seeing. But, again, there is no intent to exacerbate the virus issues or put anyone in deeper danger.
And I know some facilities out here, in the world, are making the same decisions as CDCR, relative to their clients, some of those decisions are good, some don’t turn out as well. Again, no evil intent.
Please stop pointing fingers and yelling wildly, start being strategic with your concerns and advocacy. Take your concerns for your individual LO, use the contact and advocacy tools we’ve suggested and don’t give up. Be reasonable, be civil and BE PERSISTENT.
But understand, no one is getting sprung from prison just because CoVid has appeared on the scene.