Center on Sentencing and Corrections

Medical Isolation and Solitary Confinement: Balancing Health and Humanity in US Jails and Prisons During COVID-19

Medical Isolation and Solitary Confinement: Balancing Health and Humanity in US Jails and Prisons During COVID-19

Cloud, David H., Cyrus Ahalt, Dallas Augustine, David Sears, and Brie Williams. “Medical Isolation and Solitary Confinement: Balancing Health and Humanity in US Jails and Prisons During COVID-19.” Journal of General Internal Medicine (July 2020).

This article, written by public health and corrections experts for the Journal of General Internal Medicine, provides background on the ethical issues that arise within prisons and jails when using the critical public health tools of medical isolation and quarantine to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Given the widespread overuse of restrictive housing in correctional facilities, advocates and other stakeholders are concerned that the use of medical isolation and quarantine will replicate these highly restrictive conditions. The authors note that “it is essential to clarify the critical differences between punitive solitary confinement [or restrictive housing] and the ethical use of medical isolation and quarantine during a pandemic. By doing so, then all those invested in stopping the spread of COVID-19 in prisons can work together to integrate medically sound, humane forms of medical isolation and quarantine that follow community standards of care rather than punitive forms of solitary confinement to manage COVID-19.”

To effectively curb transmission of the coronavirus in a way that also protects the dignity of incarcerated people, the authors recommend that correctional agencies:

  • Implement significant population reduction efforts and a new approach to population management
  • Work in collaboration with elected officials, advocates, litigators, family members, and other stakeholders to secure the needed medical supplies, testing kits, staffing support, and other vital resources for remaining incarcerated people and staff
  • Create conditions in medical isolation and quarantine that bear little resemblance to segregation
  • Maintain sufficient capacity to test patients for COVID-19 to implement time-restrictions for quarantine and medical isolation

 

Click here to view the article.

Keywords: lockdown, COVID, healthcare, public health, social distancing, screening, decarceration, planning