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Addressing COVID-19 Issues in Correctional Facilities
By Robert Kravitz, President AlturaSolutions
Published: 05/18/2020

Prison tower What’s happening today in some Michigan correctional facilities as a result of COVID-19 (coronavirus) is an example of what is likely happening around the country. For instance, many Michigan inmates do not want administrators to know they are sick. Some fear that if administrators find out, they will be isolated from the correctional population, separated from their personal possessions, or possibly moved into solitary confinement.

This creates significant problems for administrators, because if inmates have the virus, it can easily spread to other inmates and correctional staff. There is no such thing as social distancing in most correctional facilities. As of April 15, 2020, the Michigan Department of Corrections reported that 454 inmates and 175 correctional staff had tested positive for COVID-19; 11 inmates had died as did two employees.

As a result of the virus, correctional facilities are grappling with these additional challenges:

Limited testing

As is the case with the general public, most inmates are not tested for COVID unless they have symptoms. This creates a “wait-and-see” atmosphere that can have serious consequences. Some recent reports say that people may have the disease—and be contagious—two or three days before they develop any symptoms. More extensive testing would give correctional administrators a chance to isolate those inmates who test positive.

Snitching

There is an unwritten rule that most inmates learn as soon as they enter a correctional facility: no snitching. In other words, “you see something, you don’t say something.” In the past, this unwritten rule pertained primarily to some type of misconduct in the facility. But with COVID-19—and likely for the first time—it involves health. While inmates may hear someone coughing and can see they are ill, most continue to adhere to this unwritten rule.

Understaffing

Some correctional staffers have tested positive for the disease, and others have been exposed to someone with the disease. While they may or may not develop symptoms, in such cases they are typically asked to stay home for up to 14 days. This can cause hardships in many correctional locations, leading to severe understaffing. “They’re half-staffed,” putting the facility into “panic mode,” according to one inmate in a Michigan correctional facility. “They’re even bringing in office people because [the regular] staff is so low.”

Addressing the Situation

This is a challenging time for many correctional facilities, according to Michael Wilson, vice president of AFFLINK, a nationwide, distributor-member organization focusing on professional cleaning and healthcare and infection prevention. “However, administrators can take steps to help minimize the spread of the disease.”

Among the steps Wilson suggests are the following:

Thermometers Because testing is an issue, administrators should look into various high-tech thermometers that can read someone’s temperature in seconds. These devices certainly can’t tell us if someone has the virus, but if someone has a high temperature, it can serve as a “red flag.” (See Sidebar Below)

Masks

Purchasing and wearing masks is essential for staff and inmates alike. “There is now a rush to make these and more should be available in time. An astute distributor can notify administrators when and where they are available and get them delivered as soon as possible.”

Personal Hygiene Supplies

Administrators should order more personal hygiene supplies for inmates. At the top of the list of personal hygiene supplies Wilson recommends are hand soaps and hand sanitizers. He also recommends providing inmates with their own cleaning supplies, if possible, “so that they can take steps to keep their cells cleaner and healthier.”

High-Touch Cleaning Supplies

Administrators should stock up on high-touch cleaning solutions and disinfectants. Bleach and water are often used in correctional facilities to wipe down many high-touch areas, “but we can’t use bleach and water everywhere. We need cleaners and disinfectants specifically designed to clean phones, restraints, light switches, and controls.” He advises conducting a high-touch audit to find out how many high-touch surfaces are in the facility. “The numbers may be staggering, but we will know where to place our cleaning efforts.”

Best Practices

Cleaning workers, whether staff or inmates, must be made aware of cleaning and disinfecting “best practices.” Surfaces are always cleaned first and then disinfected. Additionally, if the disinfectant dries on a surface, it must be reapplied.

Personal Protection Gear

The wearing of personal protective gear is essential now for staff. “This not only applies to gloves, but goggles when cleaning, face shields, even shoe covers.” Recent reports have found the coronavirus on shoe bottoms. If the shoe bottoms are touched, and then the face is touched, cross-contamination can result.

Finding a Distributor

We are all in unchartered territory right now due to coronavirus. Wilson advises that all facility administrators, whether in correctional facilities, schools, or office buildings, “need knowledgeable people they can turn to in this moment. Never underestimate the value of a well-informed distributor. They are helping many administrators get through this crisis [and] when it comes to effective, hygienic cleaning, they can be a walking encyclopedia.”

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the corrections industry. He can be reached at robert.kravitz@outlook.com

Sidebar: Amazon.com Inc has started to use thermal cameras at its warehouses to speed up screening for feverish workers who could be infected with the coronavirus, employees told Reuters. Such systems can also be used in correctional locations.


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