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How Texas Prisons Are Responding to the Coronavirus Pandemic

Parole Law Blog by The Law Office of Greg Tsioros

How Texas Prisons Are Responding to the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Are you currently wearing your mask when you go out to the grocery store? Do you consistently break out the hand sanitizer or wash your hands thoroughly after going out? The CDC, WHO and other authorities have confirmed the importance of preventative measures to help curb the spread of the coronavirus – but what about populations that can’t exercise these measures?

Inmates are often put together in small cells, and their access to protective equipment and disinfectants are very limited. On top of that, their living conditions are less than ideal. With that in mind, many Texans are wondering – how are Texas prisons responding to the coronavirus pandemic? Should we be worried about a potential prison outbreak in our state?

Are Texas Prisoners Getting Tested for Coronavirus?

Similar to the situation in our general population, we can’t know how many prisoners are suffering from the new coronavirus until they’ve been tested. Are Texas prisoners getting tested right now? According to authorities, the first inmate in Texas tested positive for COVID-19 back in late March. One day later, four more cases within prisons were confirmed.

Now, in early May, over 1,600 inmates and correctional staff have tested positive. Testing indicates that at least 25 prisoners and staff have passed away from COVID-19 complications. Despite all of these signs, testing in Texas prison facilities is still limited. Only a small fraction, about 1% of the total prison population in the state, had actually been tested as of May 1st.

There’s been a massive push towards widespread testing in prisons, but not much has been done yet.

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Why is a Covid-19 Prison Outbreak Worrisome?

We’re all worried about a coronavirus outbreak in our local communities, but should we be worried about prison outbreaks, too? According to the World Health Organization, it’s imperative. Controlling infections in prisons will help prevent larger outbreaks.

If coronavirus breaks out in prison populations, it’s unlikely to be restricted to the jail itself. Correctional staff can unintentionally spread the virus to nearby communities, and inmates who get released while positive can do the same. Texans who get arrested may get exposed in jail and continue to spread coronavirus. All of these impacts would negate all of the hard work and social distancing we’ve been doing as a whole.

What Are Lawmakers Doing to Prevent a Prison Outbreak of Coronavirus?

When an emergency was first declared over the virus, a number of steps were taken to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in prisons. Here are a few things prisons did right away:

  • Stopped inmate visitations
  • Ceased the transportation of inmates temporarily
  • Limited group activities like recreation and eating
  • Medically restricted inmates who test positive

Now that nearly two months have passed since Governor Abbott declared the disaster, thousands of prisoners are stuck in a lockdown limbo. Most prisoners are being kept in their cells for the majority of each day. That means no recreational period, no meals in dining halls, and a cut-down on other activities, too. Inmates are given meals in a sack while still in their cells. Prisoners can’t get visits from their loved ones, and many aren’t being allowed to even call them on the phone during this time.

Many lawmakers have explained the gravity of the situation. They’ve argued that the prison system is doing the best that it can with limited resources in this extreme time. While some have argued that non-violent prisoners should be released to help curb the spread, most law enforcement agencies disagree with this sentiment.

Recent Lawsuit: What You Need to Know

Clearly, our state’s prisons are quickly becoming hot-spots for the virus. Early on, measures were taken to protect inmates and staff. While much was done, the CDC immediately urged prisons to do more. The agency explained that sick inmates needed to be quarantined by themselves and protective gear should be used by staff.

In March, two inmates decided to sue the prison system. They argued that they weren’t being given enough protection against the virus. They urged our state’s courts to make prisons provide important protective equipment to prisoners. This lawsuit took about a month to reach the desk of a federal judge, who was appalled by the correctional facility’s behavior.

The federal judge listed out a number of demands that now must be met by prisons including:

  • Providing inmates with masks
  • Ensuring extra toilet paper is available during the crisis
  • Testing all inmates

After this order, prisons began to comply. Now, staff and inmates are being given masks on a massive scale. They’re also being permitted to use hand sanitizer. While not every inmate is getting tested yet, advocates continue to try to make wide scale testing available.

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Are You Looking for a Lawyer?

The coronavirus pandemic is causing a lot of stress, worry, and panic. The last thing you want to have to deal with at this time is getting arrested. You DO NOT want to be in prison where you could potentially catch the virus.

If you are currently serving time, you might want to consider applying for parole to reduce your risk of contracting the virus. At our office, we value your freedom and health. We’re happy help you learn about your legal options during this crisis. Reach out to our firm now to learn more about how we can help.

Final Thoughts

Society is still learning how to cope with the virus, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Texas prison facilities are a bit overwhelmed with the crisis, too. Much has been done about the situation, like providing protective gear to inmates and implementing social distancing, but that hasn’t prevented the spread in facilities.

A prison outbreak impacts both inmates and their surrounding communities. Our communities and state population are at risk, too. For that reason, we should all be asking – how are Texas prisons responding to the coronavirus pandemic? How can we advocate for inmates at this time?

If you or a loved one are considering applying for parole during this time, then we can help. Reach out to our attorneys now to learn more about your options.

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