COVID-19 response: What about us?

More Than Our Crimes
6 min readMar 19, 2020

Is the incarcerated population on the priority list?

As we watch the COVID-19 pandemic consume global attention from inside our cages, one thought comes to mind: Out of sight, out of mind.

The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus has created a worldwide public health crisis; as of 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, there were 7,038 confirmed infections and 97 deaths in the United States. Some experts estimate that over 100 million Americans will eventually be infected, with expected fatalities reaching at least hundreds of thousands and potentially millions.

Keeping a “safe” distance from others while in prison is a joke.

The population most devastated by the pandemic could very well be the most vulnerable and powerless citizens in the country: our incarcerated brothers and sisters. I have been following the news cycle religiously and daily, governments are declaring national and state lockdowns (schools, churches, sporting events, work places, etc. have been closed or canceled) and urging residents to practice prevention by through tactics such as frequent hand washing and “social distancing” (a new phrase for our social lexicon that we suddenly now all use regularly). But, how do you practice these things in a prison or jail setting? Prisons are naturally very unhygienic places. Consider:

Medical care is notoriously poor. Many prisons and jails are located in rural or poor counties, where administrators have neither the resources nor the expertise to hire, train and supervise doctors and nurses.

The incarcerated population is plagued by poor health already.

Cleanliness is not a strong suit. Basic disease prevention techniques are either against the rules or simply impossible. For example, the CDC is recommending the use of hand sanitizers with 75% alcohol content. But any products containing alcohol are typically banned in prisons. Likewise, it’s not always possible to wash your hands regularly. Sometimes your water is out. Sometimes you don’t have access to a sink.

“If you spend even just a couple of minutes in any jail or prison area, you…

More Than Our Crimes

Rob Barton has been incarcerated for 26 years. Pam Bailey is his collaborator/editor. Learn more at