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Giving Compass' Take:
• Nicole Lewis and Maurice Chammah discuss the impact of coronavirus on prison families, who remain uninformed and unable to visit.
• What can we learn from the pandemic about the gaps in the handling of prisoners? What can be done to offer prison families more accurate information about their loved ones?
• Find out how you can support prison families and others suffering from the public health crisis.
At least 63 people in state and federal custody have died from the coronavirus, according to data collected by The Marshall Project. We reached eight families who lost someone to the pandemic. Some are still wrangling with prison officials to even obtain the bodies of their loved ones and to learn basic information about their final days. And their grief is compounded by the fact they’ll have to mourn at a safe distance from their families as coronavirus puts large gatherings on hold.
Given the massive number of elderly prisoners around the country, deaths are hardly rare in federal and state prisons, as well as jails. Every state and county has its own protocol for what it will pay for and what happens when family members either cannot be found or are unable or unwilling to handle the remains and arrangements.
Many of the first victims of coronavirus in prison died in nearby hospitals. Across the country, hospital staff have built makeshift morgues as people die in record numbers. As the bodies pile up, officials in some cities have shortened the window of time people have to claim their family members.
Under normal circumstances, the death of an incarcerated family member is often shrouded in secrecy. When a prisoner is hospitalized, state and federal prison officials sometimes inform their relatives. But several families said officials would not provide hospital information, so they could not directly ask about the course of treatment or prognosis.
When someone dies in prison, even without a pandemic, some families struggle for years to gain insight into their final days. Coronavirus has erected more barriers in their search for answers. Testing is limited in many facilities, and many family members say officials have not done enough to prevent the virus from spreading behind bars.
Read the full article about prison families during coronavirus by Nicole Lewis and Maurice Chammah at The Marshall Project.