THE COVID-19 OUTBREAK IN MASS. PRISONS EXPOSES A LARGER HUMAN RIGHTS CRISIS
Nov 16, 2020
By Sarah Laughlin
Over the course of one weekend in early November, the number of COVID-19 cases at MCI-Norfolk spiked from 26 to 74. By the end of the week, it had reached 140. The latest available numbers put it at 178.
This past weekend, the state finally began universal coronavirus testing of state prisoners and staff. It may be too little too late.
The Massachusetts Department of Correction’s (DOC) failure to properly safeguard incarcerated people from the coronavirus is not simply an isolated act of negligence — it is one facet of a larger, ongoing human rights crisis. The pandemic has simply helped to expose the inhumane living conditions that incarcerated people in Massachusetts regularly face.
The outbreak in MCI-Norfolk was both predictable and preventable. Incarcerated people are among those most severely affected by COVID-19, with an infection rate of five times the national average. In addition, the five largest coronavirus outbreaks in the United States have been in correctional facilities.
Prisons have long been recognized as a petri dish for infectious disease. Severe overcrowding and cramped living quarters make social distancing near impossible in a carceral setting. Lack of access to basic sanitary measures such as hand sanitizer and soap (incarcerated people have to buy these items, and many cannot afford to) have always made prisons a hotbed for disease.