Prisons are suspending inmate visits. One expert calls them a ‘powder keg’ for coronavirus outbreak.


March 17, 2020
Boston Globe
By Vernal Coleman

State authorities have suspended visits to inmates at all 16 state prisons, limiting the correctional facilities’ exposure to the outside world in hopes of keeping the Covid-19 virus at bay.

Attorneys will still be allowed to see any of the roughly 8,800 people incarcerated in state prisons, but visits from friends and family have been banned indefinitely, authorities said late last week. Several county jails have adopted similar measures.

The restrictions drew a sharp response from prisoner legal advocates, who called for more transparency about prison health and safety precautions, and encouraged a reduction of the population through the early release of some inmates.

The suspension of family visits at correctional facilities comes amid sharpening understanding of the effects of coronavirus. The virus has killed at least 74 people since it took hold in the United States, many of them elderly and suffering underlying conditions that exacerbated the infection.

Some prisoner advocates said the state’s decision to restrict access to correctional facilities came way too late — a person can spread the infection for days prior to showing any symptoms.

Kate Piper, a paralegal with Prisoners’ Legal Services, said MCI-Norfolk, a medium-level prison, was the picture of normalcy when she visited a client last Wednesday. There was no hand sanitizer in the lobby, Piper said. Prison personnel never asked her about being exposed to the virus before she entered.

Prisoners’ Legal Services, a non-profit that provides legal services for the incarcerated, demanded the state release more details about its coronavirus prevention plans.

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