As a public health graduate student who works with incarcerated people, I am concerned with how Montana has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Incarcerated people are more susceptible to pandemics for several reasons. They are more likely to have a chronic illness or infectious disease than the general population. Prisons and jails are also often unsanitary, overcrowded and leave little ability to social distance.
Montana has already suspended all visits to prisons to help “flatten the curve.” There is much more we can do. Montana should decrease unnecessary arrests to limit the number of people entering jails; ensure that incarcerated people have free access to personal hygiene products; limit probation and parole requirements that force people to ignore social distancing and leave their homes unnecessarily, like random drug testing; and release people who are pretrial or convicted of low-level offenses.
Too often, the health needs of our justice-involved community members are ignored, despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled that denial of health care in prison constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
We must do more to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and jails. The health of justice-involved people cannot be left behind in a pandemic.
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