Inside America’s jails and prisons there’s a delicate balance at play, weighing the usual demands of a typically crowded inmate population against the potent reality of an ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
These precautions have mostly come in the form of single celling detainees, quarantining individuals who are either sick or symptomatic, reducing the overall population by releasing nonviolent low-level offenders and more.
In places like Chicago’s Cook County Jail, summertime spikes in detainees are typical, usually coinciding with violence in the warmer months, meaning that the “delicate balance” they’ve put in place to protect against coronavirus quickly gets thrown off.
“I’m probably 500 people away from where this can’t work,” said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. “There are all these interlinking parts here where there’s not unlimited beds, there’s not unlimited space, there’s not unlimited correctional staff to watch them.”
On a month-to-month basis, the jail is already beginning to see an uptick in the average number of detainees they’re getting, according to data provided by the jail.
It means the jail may have to lose one of their main precautions of single celling and go back to putting two in a cell, following general Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that those who have recovered from coronavirus are not as likely to be infectious.
That would mean pulling from a pool of detainees siloed in the jail’s quarantine bootcamp, created specifically for the pandemic to separate out those who are sick.