Incarcerated Black women face numerous issues in COVID-19 pandemic

Black women in jail are at high risk for the coronavirus among other challenges such as access to health care, mental illness, and substance abuse

jail cell

There has been a lot of talk about the inequities faced by African Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. But one group of African Americans has been somewhat overlooked. The population of Black women in jail is at risk for coronavirus and they face other challenges during the crisis.

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NBC News reports that the Black female prison population already had significant vulnerabilities even before the pandemic. Among the issues many faced even before they were incarcerated were access to health care, mental illness, and substance abuse.

Prison activist and author Donna Hylton, who wrote “A Little Piece of Light: A Memoir of Hope, Prison and a Life Unbound” in 2018, served 27 years in a New York state prison said that those issues are making things even more difficult for women in the system.


An armed California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) at San Quentin State Prison. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“These populations are medically compromised long before incarceration,” Hylton told NBC News. “We didn’t have resources before incarceration, imagine the communities inside prisons and jails.”

Though the African American female incarceration rate has declined 55% since 2000, it is still twice that of white women – 92 per 100,000, versus 49 per 100,000 and remains a cause for concern, especially as many incarcerated women are also mothers.

Sixty percent of incarcerated women in local jails are there awaiting trial and often for long periods of time, the Prison Policy Initiative statistics show. The majority are there for non-violent crimes and languish in jails because they and their families can’t afford bail.

Some inmates have been released from jail early during the pandemic. But those who must remain have found the measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 to be even more challenging than the virus itself. Restricting visits and placing some inmates in solitary confinement has been the practice at some jails.

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“I spent two and a half years in solitary. It should not be the response to anything. It’s inhumane and it’s torture,” Hylton said. “You have to treat people humanely. Talk to people. If you cut off those means of communication with the outside world, you just increase the sense of isolation and anxiety.”

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