COVID-19 is actively changing the way we live our lives in the free world. For many prisoners, the effects on those of us on the outside are beyond belief. Without having seen the empty store shelves, or feeling the effects of school, restaurant and other business closures are impossible to wrap their minds around. The dangers of this virus in an institutional setting are also hard to put into words. We’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Idaho’s prisons are ill equipped to deal with an outbreak of anything. Many buildings are 25 years old or more. Isolation cells are few and far between. Ventilation systems were designed for half the capacity they currently are being used for. Overcrowding prevents social distancing. Medical departments are small and health care is limited. There are a number of chronically ill inmates who could die if they contract COVID-19 in the prison. The logistics are frightening for immune-compromised prisoners.
Changes to the 13 facilities would be cost prohibitive.
So, the Idaho Department of Correction has done a very aggressive job of closing their institutions to outside visitors, disinfecting from top to bottom, and reducing inmate-to-inmate interaction as best they can. This is a huge burden on the system. Meal preparation and delivery is more time consuming and expensive. Cleaning supplies and operations cost more than budgeted. Staff shortages already exist.
The good news appears to be that the Department and their staff are up to the challenge. They have negotiated additional phone calls and emails to help prisoners stay connected to their loved ones since facility visits have been indefinitely cancelled. Their contractors, JPay, Century Link, and Keefe have stepped up and are providing additional services to make the secure status lockdown situation bearable.
Recreation opportunities have been impacted. Religious opportunities particularly have been impacted since units are on secure status and volunteers have been banned for the time being. Tensions are high and everyone feels it.
Hopefully this emergency will be over soon and we can get back to normal. Until then, the Department of Correction has found a way to keep prisoners in their care are safe, healthy and provided for and we thank them for their work!