Advocates Urge Release of Older Prison Population Due to COVID-19

This piece originally appeared on Public News Service.

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- While most of the country practices frequent handwashing and social distancing, prisons and jails are housing people that can't take basic precautions against contracting the coronavirus or giving it to others.

Tyrone Walker, associate at the Justice Policy Institute, said most facilities around the country are on lockdown to curb the spread of the virus, but it's unclear whether that tactic will work.

"We know that the elderly are greatly at risk," he said. "You have some of these institutions that have what is called geriatric wards, people who can be safely released into the community because they pose no threat whatsoever to public safety."

He added the population of people aged 55 and older in state prisons has quadrupled since the early 1990s. Media outlets are reporting that a federal inmate in New York recently tested positive for the virus, as well as two employees at a state prison in Ohio.

Walker said lack of sanitizing in prisons is a major issue, including a lack of access to hand sanitizer, which is considered contraband.

"They only pass out soap once a month," he said. "How are they supposed to wash their hands frequently, plus take showers, during this time of panic?"

Advocacy groups such as the Justice Policy Institute and the Prison Policy Initiative are calling for the release of older incarcerated people, ending imprisonment for parole and probation violations, and a moratorium on charging copays for medical care in prisons.

This piece originally appeared on Public News Service.