The pathogen has had a serious outbreak in state and federal prisons — jails have proven to be the leading COVID-19 hotspots — and this side of the curve-bending seems to be a slow affair. The toll has been significant. The Marshall Project/Associated Press tabulates (through May 22nd) that nearly 30,000 prisoners have contracted the virus, with 415 deaths. As for prison staff, there are 33 reported deaths (only 16 states are releasing information about the virus’s toll on personnel).
What to do? One partial solution — which has caused some conservative angst — is the early release or pardoning of chunks of the population (typically those with non-violent records or on the verge of parole) to relieve pressure on the contamination spread, exacerbated by jailhouse density.
An alternative to prisoner-release — and a sensible strategy for implementing general safety to contain viral spread — might be the aggressive use of masks and other safety devices. Which is exactly what is the intent of a joint effort by the National Sheriffs’ Association (sheriffs oversee the vast majority of U.S. jails) and the hip-hop-influenced REFORM Alliance. The two (unusually paired) organizations announced today the launch of a $10 million private-funded partnership to send millions of PPE masks to America’s prisons to protect the incarcerated and law-enforcement staff. The purpose is not only to provide protection, but to crush the contagion’s spread. Here’s hoping it works.