The COVID-19 pandemic has opened our eyes to the myriad vulnerabilities in the prison health care system. We need only record the number of pandemic-related deaths of federal inmates to grasp that the prison health care system is profoundly ill-equipped to handle the needs of inmates during a public health crisis. Currently, prisoner infection rates outpace those of the general, unincarcerated population by more than 150%, and prisoners are dying four times as often as prison staff who test positive. Results are far worse for elderly inmates. While COVID-19 afflicts people of all health profiles, its grip on the elderly is the most arresting.
Though some effort has been exerted, federal prison officials fail to adequately protect the rights of the imprisoned elderly. It cannot be ignored that prison officials owe basic duties of care to the incarcerated, chief among them, the responsibility to provide adequate health care. However, prisons, by their very nature, are unable to care for an old and ailing population. This glaring deficiency is rendered indisputable by the novel coronavirus pandemic. For this reason, vulnerable inmates, especially the elderly, should be released to home confinement forthwith. Anything less is profoundly inhumane and represents a colossal miscarriage of justice.