Without Ways To Practice Social Distancing, Prisons, Jails Change Routines Amid Coronavirus Fears
OKLAHOMA CITY - As doctors urge the public to practice social distancing, prisons and jails, which are designed to confine, are making changes to daily routines to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus.
When asked, the Department of Corrections said there was no plan specifically for the novel coronavirus named COVID-19. Instead DOC spokesperson Matt Elliott pointed to the department’s plan for the flu which includes plans for isolation, quarantine and grouping of sick inmates. It also provides for screening and training for both medical and non-medical staff should a prison-wide outbreak occur. Currently, Oklahoma has the second highest incarceration rate in the country.
The state also has contracts with two private prison companies. The GEO group Inc., runs a pair of facilities in Oklahoma.
“We are working closely with the federal government to ensure the health and safety of all those in our care,” GEO Executive Vice President Pablo Paez said. “We have issued guidance to our Facilities, in line with the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, on best practices to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. Furthermore, we’ve updated our policies and procedures to include the prevention, assessment, and management of the Coronavirus.”
The other company, CivicCore, operates seven prisons and facilities statewide.
“CoreCivic is committed to preventing and mitigating the spread of communicable disease and virus transmission among our employees, those entrusted to our care,” the company’s director of public affairs Amanda Gilchrist. “Each of our facilities also has a comprehensive emergency response plan in place.”
As of Friday morning, neither company has reported a case of the coronavirus in their facilities.
At the county level, jails are also changing routines. The Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office said in a tweet earlier in the week it would be suspending in person visits and tours, linking to a guideline page on how to schedule a video visit.
Most jails have procedures for video visits or remote visiting for inmates. Oklahoma co. allows for a single, hour long video visit once a week. A $3.75 fee is charged every 15 minutes after that hour. Remote visitations cost $7.50 for 15 minutes.