Burlington County Jail inmates, families worry as 11 more officers test positive for COVID-19 (Burlington County Times, May 22, 2020)
Excerpted Content: “And while county jails and state prisons are different penal systems — county jails are where those charged await their trial or are serving less than a year sentences, and prisons are where they are incarcerated if convicted and sentenced beyond 364 days — New York University adjunct professor and co-founder of the United Freedom Coalition Terrance Coffie doesn’t believe the solution to protecting either population from the disease should be.
According to Coffie, in both jails and prisons across the country, those incarcerated considered medically vulnerable as well as low-level offenders should be temporarily released, and both officers and inmates inside should be universally tested and screened.
“We’ve closed beaches to deter people from being in closed quarters, we’ve shut down businesses — we have to apply the same things in jails if we are serious about addressing spread of COVID-19,” Coffie said. “The fact is we have a crisis on our hands.”
If an outbreak were to occur inside a jail or prison, Coffie said he “confidently” believes the medical systems inside the facilities are woefully unprepared — the professor and criminal justice reform advocate spent 19 years incarcerated.
Coffie also said testing and housing should be provided for those temporarily released, and “quarantine sites” should be established for sick inmates.
Only once populations are reduced, Coffie said can jails and prisons truly implement social-distancing measures.
“It’s impossible to practice social distancing now. It’s not an option on behalf of inmates in these facilities, when your bed spacing is two or three feet apart, where the communal area where you eat is a populated area, the showers are communal areas,” Coffie said.”