The COVID-19 Pandemic Influence on California Prisons

Topic: Law Enforcement
Words: 1134 Pages: 4


The global emergence of Covid-19 was met with unpreparedness by all. The pandemic was attributed to the negative impact caused by this virus. Many governments were caught unaware, as it was evident by how they responded or how the cases were handled. The pandemic was met with confusion and desperation as this was never experienced again in near history. Prisons and correctional facilities were no exception and were among the hardest hit departments.

This assignment seeks to discuss how different prisons in California handled Covid-19 in general. It further elaborates on the different methods used by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to combat the spread of this disease and manage its impacts on various state prisons. The emergence of Covid-19 met the correctional facilities unprepared hence the increased random spread of the disease. According to Harris & Hayes (2021), coronavirus cases peaked in the prison system earlier than they did nationally, with 18,000 infections recorded in December 2020.

Prisons like San Quentin were already suffering from high populations of inmates due to their poor architecture, making them vulnerable to the high rate of recorded infections. The poor infrastructure included tiny cells which were stacked against each other. The cells had open bars that allowed air to flow freely instead of solid bars that could have minimized the flow of air. Also, prisoner transfers further encouraged the spread of Covid-19. For instance, infected inmates were transferred to the San Quentin facility, which lacked enough facilities to quarantine the inmates, spreading the disease to healthy inmates. Lam (2021) suggests that issues other than architecture contributed to the spread of the virus. Many inmates had health-related issues that posed a greater risk to those infected hence the high number of deaths reported.

Similarly, implementing control measures like wearing face masks proved difficult, with some inmates ignoring the measures laid down. Different approaches were used to combat the spread of the virus. Initial preventive measures included the distribution of face masks and hand sanitizers to the inmates. Implementation of these basic preventive measures was emphasized. With time, this measure proved insufficient, and hence isolation of the infected and total lockdown within the prisons was encouraged.

Isolation and lockdown minimized the spread of the virus from individuals visiting or infection from outside the institutions. Moreover, the measures prevented the spread of the virus to the immediate communities near the facilities. Despite all these efforts, the spread and Covid-19-related deaths still escalated. With the emergence of Covid-19 vaccines, many facilities quickly took up this approach as it was the best and still is (Harris & Hayes, 2021). Across the prisons, vaccination rates have been reported to be higher than the state-wide rates because prisoners acknowledge the threat of the virus.

Advantages of the Vaccination Approach

The mass vaccinations across different correctional facilities have proved to be lifesaving. Furthermore, in prisons, where most prisoners have underlying conditions, the Covid-19 vaccine reduced the death rates of those infected who would have otherwise succumbed without vaccination (Harris & Hayes, 2021). Also, with increased vaccinations in these prisons, the rate of spread of new infections plummeted. Increased vaccination implies that fewer inmates were infected since the rate of spread is low. With low numbers of those infected, the burden of having to treat a large number is reduced. Firstly, only those seriously ill are provided the best health care since scarce resources are available. Secondly, the cost spent by the government to treat Covid-19 is reduced.

The cost of treating Covid-19 patients is higher, and prevention through vaccination acts to save these costs. This fund can be utilized in developing the facilities to handle such pandemics in the future, like maintaining and expanding the infrastructure to handle more inmates. As a result of the positive uptake of vaccinations, active infections have been reduced, and stringent measures such as lockdown have been lifted (Pohl & Venteicher, 2021).

It implies that the families of those incarcerated can revisit them. Hence, inmates can reunite with their families again and enjoy happy moments together. The uptake of vaccines has a positive impact on the community and the inmates as well. Psychologically, seeing their families relieves the inmates. Moreover, the staff, who have been working under much pressure, can rejoin their families and work with ease again. The risk of institutions spreading the virus to communities, particularly the adjacent rural areas, has reduced drastically due to the vaccinations.

Disadvantages of the Vaccination Approach

The vaccinations have helped a large part in bringing normalcy back in these institutions. However, a few areas remain unattended due to the positive impact the vaccines have brought. For instance, the overcrowding in these facilities remains unattended just because the number of active infections has plummeted. Such good reforms to change the conditions in these facilities go unattended since the scariest and immediate problem seems to have been handled.

Also, despite the vaccinations, the spread of the virus is still possible. Chances of spread suggest that the surge of new infections is still possible under poor conditions and ignorance of protective mechanisms. In addition to that, the much emphasis put on vaccinations creates room for failure to maintain the everyday health needs of patients with other health needs apart from Covid-19. Plummer & Mejías (2021) reports that during the peak period of infections, it was hard to get an accurate picture of the pandemic because different procedures account for prison deaths. Reporting mistakes were identified, which could mean that some coronavirus-counted deaths could have resulted from other diseases.

Reporting mistakes indicates the poor health care systems in prison facilities and that there could have been other neglected cases either due to Covid-19 or other diseases. Undercounting of Covid-19 related cases puts those incarcerated and detention center staff at risk. It is worth noting that the false impression of jail trials to contain the virus is not the case, as minimal efforts have been invested in the process. The emergence of the new variant virus also risks prison facilities because of the laxity developed from the benefits of the vaccines. It should also be noted that these vaccines are not natural cures and as such, preventive measures and reforms should be maintained and enacted.


The Covid-19 pandemic points to some of the problems and poor conditions present in correctional and rehabilitation facilities. The eighth amendment must be implemented to protect the inmates. The constitutional protection of inmates ensures that they are not denied basic human decency like all other people in the community. Reforms to end the abuse of inmates to reduce overcrowding, which, as we have seen, was the main factor increasing the spread of Covid-19, should be encouraged. These reforms should aim to equip these facilities with enough resources to handle the number of inmates present, aiming to minimize overcrowding.


Harris, H., & Hayes, J. (2021). The past, present, and future of COVID-19 in California prisons. Public Policy Institute of California. Web.

Lam, M. (2021). After a year of COVID-19 outbreaks, California prisons reckon with mistakes. KQED. Web.

Plummer, M., & Mejía, S. (2021). As prisons and jails in California battle COVID-19, some inmate deaths go uncounted. KPBS Public Media. Web.

Pohl, J., & Venteicher, W. (2021). California prisons hit Covid-19 herd immunity after outbreaks. The Sacramento Bee. Web.

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