Giving Compass' Take:
- Keri Blakinger discusses how restricted interaction policies have proven detrimental, as the effects of coronavirus on prison oversight create distress behind bars.
- The coronavirus is working its way into every facet of life. How might increased giving prevent us from spreading ourselves too thinly?
- Learn more about the impact of coronavirus in prisons and jails.
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When two inspectors showed up at a juvenile prison in north Texas late last year, they heard about kids beating each other up, recruiting for gangs and dismantling their cinder-block cells.
But if that chaos is continuing at the Gainesville State School, there’s no real way to know: The state’s independent monitor for juvenile prisons has suspended its monthly visits because of COVID-19.
In fact, oversight visits to prisons and jails across the country are already collateral damage in the global pandemic. State agencies, independent groups and court-appointed monitors work in facilities across the country, often those with a history of problems. But in New York and Illinois, independent oversight officials no longer have access to prisons, while their counterparts in Washington State voluntarily halted their inspections.
More informal oversight—the free-world connections that those behind bars can turn to with complaints and concerns—are also fading away as prisons restrict visits to stop the spread of the disease. In some states, family visits have been suspended, along with programs run by educators and religious volunteers—the people prisoners might confide in when they have problems.
To some oversight officials I talked to, visiting a prison doesn’t seem safe right now —for people being held behind bars. Inspectors are worried about unwittingly infecting a high-risk population with limited access to healthcare or basic disease prevention measures.
“The real question is: How do you create transparency when oversight bodies can’t get into prisons?” said Jennifer Vollen-Katz, executive director of the John Howard Association, a non-partisan prison watchdog group in Illinois. “To be really honest with you, that’s what we’re brainstorming now.”
Read the full article about the adverse effects of coronavirus on prison oversight by Keri Blakinger at The Marshall Project.