Rutas de acción por un México que cuida
February 23, 2021
Carework Network Statement to the Biden-Harris Administration
March 5, 2021

Prison Pandemic: Caregiving Risk in Prisons

By Emma Dries and Nathan Boucher


Prisons have become hot spots for COVID-19’s spread internationally.  Social distancing practices are difficult, if not impossible, because of close quarters and communal facilities, Correctional officers (i.e., prison guards) are responsible for daily prisoner welfare, inter-facility transfers and enforcement of social distancing practices, putting these individuals at the forefront of the prison system’s coronavirus response.

Officers are typically the first to respond to a health emergency, acting as a liaison between inmates and the prison health infrastructure.  Their work has become exceptionally dangerous since COVID-19’s onset.  Even when prison systems take preventative steps, outbreaks often spread to correctional officers followed by the general public.  In the United States, some prisons have had to abruptly close as too many guards fell ill with the virus.

In addition to being the closest thing to a caregiver for many prisoners, correctional officers may also be caregivers to a loved-one at home. This situation renders their work even more high-risk if they spread the coronavirus to their own caregiving world or from the community to prisons.  In December, South Korea faced a large virus outbreak in prison with over 771 inmates and 21 staff infected.  The country has yet to implement large scale vaccination of its general population, let alone its prison staff. China and Russia have not publicized any plans for targeted vaccinations in prisons.

While countries like Israel and the United States have begun vaccinating corrections personnel, the choice to vaccinate inmates has been a politically divisive one, with persistent public antipathy towards inmates.  While vaccinating prisoners may not be politically popular, addressing inmate and correctional officer vaccination is necessary to protect the wider caregiving community from further viral spread.

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