Close spaces, personal medical conditions can make inmates vulnerable to COVID-19, studies say

KELOLAND.com Original
Mike Durfee State Prison South Dakota

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — According to South Dakota Department of Health epidemiologist Dr. Joshua Clayton, 190 of the 1,420 coronavirus cases at the South Dakota State Penitentiary and Mike Durfee State Prison have recovered. Both are men’s facilities.

Clayton provided the update during the Oct. 28 DOH news briefing. There were 40 recoveries of cases in 710 staff and inmates at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls and 150 recoveries in 710 cases in staff and inmates at Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield.

The South Dakota Department of Corrections said on Oct. 26 that there were 1,017 inmates at the Mike Durfee State Prison and 621 inmates housed at the state penitentiary.

The South Dakota Department of Corrections said on Oct. 28 that a total of 1,598 inmates at all state men’s and women’s correctional facilities had tested positive for COVID-19. One-hundred staff members had tested positive.

The South Dakota Department of Corrections Facility Updates for COVID-19. The chart is from Oct. 28.

This isn’t the first mass COVID-19 outbreak at a prison in South Dakota. The women’s prison in Pierre had more than 100 positive cases in late September.

On Sept. 24, several lawmakers said they wanted to talk with state officials about COVID-19 infections that have spread through the South Dakota women’s prison complex at Pierre, according to a KELOLAND News story by Bob Mercer. The state had at least 172 COVID-19 cases in the women’s prison by early October.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Prison Policy Initiative said in report released on July 2 that South Dakota had not prepared prisons for the coronavirus.

“…despite having ample time and information to take the steps necessary to heed the warnings of public health experts, South Dakota has refused to adequately address the threat that the COVID-19 pandemic poses in jails and prisons,” the two groups said in a news release.

States were graded on such factors as providing testing and protective equipment to incarcerated people and prison staff, reducing incarceration, releasing medically vulnerable inmates or those near the end of sentences and other factors.

South Dakota received an F. But no state received a grade higher than a D-.

Prisons may be more vulnerable to the coronavirus because of the confined spaces, crowded housing, medical issues of inmates and age of inmates.

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A September report called COVID-19 in U.S. State and Federal Prisons said that the mortality rate for inmates was twice as large as the general public mortality rate “after adjusting for the sex, age and race/ethnicity of those incarcerated.”

The report was prepared for the Council on Criminal Justice, a nonpartisan criminal justice think tank.

On average, the COVID-19 mortality rate within prisons is 61.8 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the September study. Prisons with 1,000 or more inmates had the highest mortality rate.

Crowded conditions can contribute to the transmission and mortality of inmates with COVID-19.

A study by the Prison Policy Initiative said prison cells are often smaller than cruise ship cabins or nursing home rooms and in some cases, beds are only three feet apart.

The Centers for Disease Control has said age is a factor with COVID-19. Those 65 can be considered vulnerable.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics said in February that from 2001 to 2016, the mortality rates for state prisoners aged 25 and older dropped but the portion of prisoners aged 55 and older tripled. Those 55 and over have the highest mortality rates.

The Bureau of Federal Prisons said as of Oct. 24, about 18% of the prison population was 51 and older.

The CDC also lists underlying medical conditions as a factor in making an individual potentially more vulnerable to COVID-19.

A 2009 study showed that 38.5% of inmates in federal prisons and 42.8% of the inmates in state prisons had chronic medical issues. Chronic conditions include heart disease, HIV, hepatitis B and C.

In 2011–2012, an estimated 40% of state and federal prisoners and jail inmates reported having a current chronic medical condition, according to a 2015 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Chronic conditions include cancer, high blood pressure, stroke-related problems, diabetes, heart-related problems, kidney-related problems, HIV and others.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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