“There has been legitimate attention concerning the effect of COVID-19 on the physical health of inmates. Another important aspect to address is their mental health. COVID-19 poses new challenges to supporting the well-being of prisoners in addition to exacerbating present issues in the incarceration system. Studies conducted since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States have revealed that Americans are feeling more anxious due to worries relating to them or loved one contracting the coronavirus. It’s expected that prisoners would suffer from the same anxiety, but unlike the general population, they cannot attempt to reduce their risk or this anxiety by following the safety guidelines outlined by the CDC. In addition, these new anxieties are compounded by the major depression and psychosis that an estimated one in seven inmates experiences worldwide. United States prison systems have placed emergency protective measures to minimize contact between prisoners, guards, visitors, including the suspension of visits by community members.
This is detrimental to the mental health of prisoners. As visits by family members have been shown to reduce depressive symptoms. Some correctional institutes are providing teleconferencing services to prisoners, which could be a useful tool for mitigating the lack of social support, but due to limitations in space, prisoners without COVID-19 may face increased restriction to their individual cells, and prisoners with COVID-19 may be placed in spaces typically used for solitary confinement. Although these restrictions are not being implemented punitively, they bear many of the same psychologically damaging qualities of solitary confinement. Studies have found that social isolation is correlated with clinical depression and long-term impulsive control disorder, particularly in those with preexisting mental illness, as prisoners are being isolated for their greater good rather than as punishment, they should have access to resources, such as books, television, means to communicate with their loved ones in order to keep themselves stimulated and make their separation mentally bearable.
The negative impacts of COVID-19 on the mental health of prisoners may grow more permanent as the pandemic continues. And as prisons are disproportionately made up of black and brown individuals, these consequences may play a part in deepening the health disparity between these communities and white people. Unfortunately, the resources needed to combat these negative effects are lacking in underfunded prisons and efforts of elected leaders, advocates, family members, and other concerned individuals are required. Although the pandemic poses new challenges to the prison system, these challenges merely expose the already existing inadequacies of the current prison system in the United States.”