The Novel Coronavirus and Enforcement of the New Separate System in Prisons

Date01 March 2022
Published date01 March 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2022, Vol. 33(2) 206 –230
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/08874034211023572
The Novel Coronavirus
and Enforcement of the
New Separate System
in Prisons
Michael Klein1, Melissa A. Kowalski2,
Youngki Woo3, Courtney Solis4, Maria Mendoza4,
Mary K. Stohr4, and Craig Hemmens4
Coronavirus has had a significant impact on daily life. Prisons are not exempt from
the impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Prisons are particularly at risk
due to their secure environment and vulnerable inmate populations. We examine
steps taken by the 50 state departments of correction and the Federal Bureau of
Prisons to mitigate COVID-19 as reported on their websites. While states vary in
their response to the virus, those responses do not appear to be related to regional
or political differences. Few are testing or quarantining all inmates, and there are
more proactive responses devoted to staff than inmates in their facilities. Findings
demonstrate that prison systems’ policies regarding COVID-19 testing, quarantining,
and provision of personal protective equipment for inmates do not fully align with
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. As a result, the
steps prison systems are taking to mitigate the effect of COVID-19 may be more
reactionary than proactive, which may be less effective overall.
COVID-19, coronavirus, prisons, social distancing, pandemic response
1Winona State University, MN, USA
2State University of New York Brockport, USA
3The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Brownsville, USA
4Washington State University, Pullman, USA
Corresponding Author:
Craig Hemmens, Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Washington State University,
P.O. Box 644872, Pullman, WA 99164-4872, USA.
1023572CJPXXX10.1177/08874034211023572Criminal Justice Policy ReviewKlein et al.
Klein et al. 207
Infectious diseases are not a new phenomenon in prisons. In fact, rates of such diseases
are higher in prison populations than they are in the general population in the United
States (Akiyama et al., 2020; Maruschak, 2006). However, until recently, prisons have
not had to deal with the magnitude of issues presented by the severe acute respiratory
coronavirus 2, which leads to the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The
COVID-19 pandemic has required a series of changes in practices and procedures
across the globe, including in correctional facilities.
Although diseases are not foreign to prisons, such facilities were not designed to
minimize disease transmission; instead, they were created to uphold public safety
through the secure incapacitation of inmates (Bick, 2007). Unlike other communicable
diseases that may be prevalent in prisons, such as sexually transmitted infections, hep-
atitis, or human immunodeficiency virus (Akiyama et al., 2020; Hammett et al., 2002),
COVID-19 is a respiratory pathogen that can be highly transmissible in congregate
settings (Akiyama et al., 2020). Moreover, the coronavirus has a variable incubation
period. It can range from one to 14 days and may last as long as 24 days. Even in some
confirmed positive cases, people may be asymptomatic. Thus, COVID-19 may have
an even greater impact on the health and safety of prison inmates and staff. Ease of
contamination is exacerbated by a lack of space and proper ventilation (Dolan et al.,
2016; Nowotny et al., 2020). Such compounding issues have been observed previ-
ously in correctional settings with the spread of hepatitis (Gondles, 2005), tuberculosis
(Bellin et al., 1993), and meningitis (Tappero et al., 1996).
Yet, one of the main preventive measures used to halt, or slow, the spread of
COVID-19 involves social distancing (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
[CDC], 2020a). Although the name implies that people should refrain from social con-
tact, the reality of social distancing is that individuals are instructed to keep at least six
feet physically away from each other. Unlike COVID-19, the concept of social dis-
tancing in prisons is not novel. Beliefs about the way a correctional system should be
operated, whether it is due to economic justifications or moral/religious reasoning,
have differed across time and place. History has shown that attempts at social distanc-
ing in prisons have failed for a multitude of reasons (de Beaumont & de Tocqueville,
1833/1964; Harris, 1973).
Yet, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, prisons are again trying to enforce social
distancing to prevent the spread of this disease. Social distancing is just one measure
to halt the onslaught of COVID-19. Others have been introduced by the American
Correctional Association (ACA, 2020) for implementation in prisons. These interven-
tions include educating staff and inmates, increased handwashing and sanitizing, com-
munication with public health authorities, enhanced screening of new intakes, limiting
non-essential transfers and movement, increased disinfection, and limiting in-person
visitation. The goal of this study is to examine what policies and procedures prison
systems in the United States have adopted in response to COVID-19. We do so by
assessing Department of Corrections (DOC) websites for each of the 50 states and the
Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to ascertain what methods of prevention or slowing

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