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Social Distancing in Prisons: How It Managed in Pandemic Time



Social Distancing in Prisons

The Coronavirus pandemic has affected every aspect and institution of human life. Workplaces have shifted from office spaces to home offices. People are confined to their homes unless they have an essential reason to go outside. Many businesses have closed physical locations and taken their operations online. Besides, we have seen governments releasing petty offenders and some prisoners using Covid-19 to seek release. One way to curb the spread of the virus is social distancing. However, implementing the directive can be tricky in crowded prisons considering the living conditions, but it is doable to some extent. Continue reading for details about how prisons are being managed in the social distancing times. 

What Is Social Distancing? 

In the face of a global pandemic, social distancing is the practice of keeping away from people to prevent contracting coronavirus (Covid-19). However, as countries open up their economies, they stress physical distance, where people can get off their homes and interact while taking extra precautions to protect themselves against the virus. The precautions include wearing masks, being 6 feet away from another person, washing hands, and sanitizing as you go about your business around other people. 

Social distancing involves various aspects. For example, you need to stay away from anyone showing coronavirus symptoms, such as a continuous cough, sneezing, and high temperature. If you use public transport, avoid the rush hour, which causes crowding and increases the risk of being infected. It is also about working from home, which helps decongest workplaces and minimizes the possibility of meeting more people. Besides, you need to avoid gatherings of any kind, be it in bars, restaurants, or home. Instead, connect with friends, family, and colleagues virtually through video calls and social media, among other online communication channels.   

Why Are Prisoners at Higher Risk of Covid-19? 

The incarcerated are at a higher risk of getting Covid-19. For starters, most prisons are crowded, as they accommodate prisoners beyond their capacity. This provides a conducive environment for the spread of coronavirus if one infected person comes into contact with others in the facility. Besides, offenders share bathrooms, cafeterias, and yards, which makes controlling their movements a lot harder and could cause an outbreak. However, one report shows that half of the incarcerated population has chronic physical or mental diseases, putting them at more risk if they contract the virus.  

That is not all. Poor hygiene in penitentiaries can contribute to the spread of the virus too. Toilets and sinks carry loads of human waste and finding soap for hand-washing can be a challenge. Governments can boost hygiene standards in prisons to some extent, but sustaining them can be challenging. However, even with improved cleanliness, keeping prisoners away from each other is not easy. Prisons have staff members and inmates coming and leaving, and who knows if they might be infected. Add that to crowding, and you have a place with a fast spread of coronavirus fast in case of infection.  

Is Social Distancing a Solution for Prisoners?

Social distancing is impractical for prisoners, but it forms a crucial part of the measures to prevent coronavirus spread. It is a challenging measure to implement. Prison is already a confined area, and prisoners cannot be kept in their small cells for a whole day. They live, eat, shower, and interact in communal areas. The infirmaries are too small to isolate many patients or handle an outbreak, and the ventilation is poor.


The pandemic has made it impossible for relatives to visit prisoners, affecting their psychological and emotional well-being. However, on the upside, governments have temporarily barred families from seeing their loved ones in jail for all the good reason, which is to protect those behind bars from infection. 

Along with social distancing, reducing the number of people detained can protect prisoners from the virus and reduce infection. For example, people convicted for nonviolent or minor offenses should be considered for immediate release, and those with mental or health conditions. Doing so creates more space and reduces crowding to help with social distancing.

It’s been a tough year for not just prisoners but the whole world, it seems. Prisons are essential points of discussion for social-distancing and Covid-19 restrictions because of how the housing systems and incarceration system leaves so much less room for these provisions. With the Second Wave of Covid-19, these discussions are even more important to be had right now.

What About Healthcare for the Prisoners?  

Prisoners have a right to quality healthcare like people outside prison. However, that is not the case. Healthcare in prisons is poor even during ordinary times when the world is not dealing with a pandemic. We cannot expect the situation to be any different right now when healthcare systems have been overwhelmed. There is a shortage of healthcare providers in prisons, which makes things worse. The detainment facilities do not have isolation centers for those infected, and even if they wanted to set them up, there might be no space for them.

At the beginning of the pandemic, countries experienced a significant shortage of testing kits and other essential medical supplies to deal with coronavirus. If medical equipment for the general public was inadequate, what about prisoners whose healthcare is not taken seriously. Just because someone is incarcerating it does not mean they are lesser humans. But somehow the society does not consider them a priority no matter the offense committed.

With poor health care, the mortality rate due to coronavirus in prisons is higher. Those in jails waiting for conviction or sentencing are also at high risk of infection. Since crowding in prisons makes social distancing impossible, and healthcare is terrible, law enforcement has had to find other ways to deal with crime in the pandemic period. For example, they have avoided arrests and instead issued citations for offenses that could have landed one in jail before coronavirus.

Final Thought

Social distancing in prisons is a challenge. The facilities are already overflowing with prisoners and have poor healthcare. The coronavirus pandemic has posed a serious health risk for everyone, including the incarcerated population. Yes, they are in confined detention areas, but staff and inmates are getting in and out, which increases the risk of infections. Social distancing can help curb the spread of the coronavirus, but it is almost impractical in prisons. Authorities can improve hygiene standards in prisons, but that is not enough. Managing prisons in the social distancing times are hard, and with low healthcare standards, things are not looking good. However, let us hope that the pandemic ends and life gets back to normal.

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