Nowhere to be socially distant: US prisons at 103% capacity, understaffed amid pandemic


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (NewsNation Now) — Since the coronavirus pandemic began, an already bursting jail and prison system are becoming more problematic.

Thousands of federal correctional offer jobs in the United States are vacant, which has forced prisons to use cooks, teachers, nurses and other workers to guard inmates.

The Justice Department budgeted for 20,446 full-time correctional officer positions in 2020, but the agency that runs federal prisons said it currently it employs about 13,762 officers. The Bureau of Prisons insists that many of its facilities still have a full complement of officers who focus solely on maintaining order.

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The federal prison system is running at 103% capacity. With the delta variant surging, there’s nowhere to be socially distant.

Outside of the population problems, there are COVID-19 concerns. The Prison Policy Institute told NewsNation more people equal more infections, and more infections equal higher death rates.

Then, there’s the problem with staffing. Some local sheriff’s offices are understaffed, leading to overtime and burnout.

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At least 10 states are running above full capacity, including Arkansas, Denver, and Montana — which has twice the number of inmates its jails were designed to handle.

At a prison in Illinois, there are so few staff that officers are sometimes forced to work 60 hours of overtime in a week. At a facility in California, a fight broke out among inmates soon after a teacher was sent to fill in as an officer.


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