By Mathew Seibert
LOS ANGELES, CA – When the COVID-19 virus infected enough people to be considered a pandemic in 2020, more than one of every 100 working-age Americans were locked up in jail or prison, according to the Los Angeles Times in a story on the pandemic in incarceration centers.
Due to the inability to be able to protect themselves, inmates became infected at extremely high rates, said the Times, noting that densely packed cells and overcrowded facilities proved to be the major cause for such a rapid infection.
The story chronicled how correctional officers and new inmates would bring the virus into the area with no chance of stopping the spread.
However, overcrowded prisons and jails have been a health hazard long before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The LA Times article explained social determinants of health occurring because of the absence of so many parents, and noted how it adds another layer of trauma to communities suffering from low wealth, few housing options, low employment, foul air, and the worst performing schools.
Incarceration itself is a determinant of health because it contributes to an endless cycle of untreated illnesses, social dysfunction, behavioral problems, crime and recidivism, said the Times piece, adding that failure by a community to deal with health issues caused by crime and incarceration makes them much less resilient when hit by epidemics.
Los Angeles County officials have known this for years but waited all the way until the pandemic to start implementing the Care First, Jail Last program.
It has yet to launch because the county is still dealing with the carnage of COVID-19, commented the Times, but the county understands that reducing the incarcerated population is crucial for society health.
The article by the Los Angeles Times said police and prosecutorial organizations oppose proposals for alternatives to incarceration because it falls outside the scope of their arrest-and-jail-approach.