As people in the United States are social distancing themselves to protect one other from the spread of COVID-19, inmates in correctional facilities have few such options. They live in close quarters, making it difficult to stay 6 feet apart at all times, as recommended by federal health officials, and they have even more limited choices for sanitation and hygiene.
Still, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety says it’s taking several measures to prevent a widespread outbreak of the disease that causes the new coronavirus.
DPS Communications Officer for Adult Corrections John Bull discussed the situation with Policy Watch and outlined the prison system’s current safety measures.
1. How is the North Carolina corrections system preparing for coronavirus?
A number of actions are being taken. Please see the attached press release (uploaded below).
2. Is alcohol-based hand sanitizer considered contraband in North Carolina prisons (the product contains a high percentage of alcohol that can be separated out from the gel substance)? If so, is there an alternative? What cleaning products are available to inmates for their individual cells?
Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is considered contraband in North Carolina prisons, as it is in many other prisons. Offenders and staff are being urged to do the following:
- Wash your hands frequently during the day, especially before eating or handling food. Scrub hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before rinsing completely with warm water.
- After washing your hands, avoid potential for re-contamination by using a paper towel to turn off faucets or open doors.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are displaying symptoms of illness.
- Correction Enterprise is creating a non-alcohol sanitizing lotion for use in Department of Public Safety. Until the lotion supplies are delivered, offenders will continue to use soap. All prisons are well stocked with soap and disinfectants.
3. Are there currently any suspected cases of coronavirus among the state’s inmate population?
4. What would the protocol be if someone in prison tested positive for coronavirus?
Offenders who test positive for COVID-19 would be isolated and treated in keeping with the Division of Prisons infectious disease protocol.
5. Has the North Carolina corrections system dealt with a pandemic or situation like this before? If so, what was it, when and what happened?
The prison system has extensive experience with seasonal outbreaks of the flu, norovirus and other contagious diseases. Patients are isolated, treated and the causes of the illnesses are investigated. I don’t believe anyone has experience with dealing with the challenges of a pandemic. The last one in the United States was the Spanish Flu in 1918, according to the CDC’s website. Prisons staff were very active and successful in handling Influenza A virus subtype H1N1 in 2009.