NY Governor Announces Hand Sanitizer Made by Prison Labor Amid Coronavirus Fears
“Jails are particularly more frightening because of massive turnover. More than half of the people in jail are only in there for two to three days. So, there are people coming in from the outside community, being exposed, and taking it back into the community, or the other way around.”
As the United States and the world come to terms with the developing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the state of New York has been a hotspot for coronavirus fears due to population-dense New York City.
In response, Governor Andrew Cuomo held a press conference to assuage the public’s fear, and he announced a New York state branded hand sanitizer to combat price gouging. The “NYC Clean” sanitizer will be sent to government agencies and schools.
Countries around the world have struggled to meet demand as scared citizens have been buying up cleaning products and masks. New York’s solution to the production problem: prison labor.
CorCraft, a state-owned business that puts 2,100 incarcerated New Yorkers to work, is producing the 75% alcohol hand sanitizer at Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Washington County. According to reporting from The Gothamist, inmates make on average 65 cents an hour working for CorCraft.
While other lawmakers and activists took offense to the use of prison labor, it exposes another bigger issue, the potential of outbreaks in the highly-concentrated confines of American prisons.
A Vulnerable Population
The spread of a virus like COVID-19 can be much faster in a shared space such as a prison, and it has caused concern across the world.
The United States has a particularly vulnerable prison population due to the world-record numbers of prisoners and an aging population. According to the Bureau of Prison Statistics, the fastest-growing age group in American prisons is 55-plus.
In general, American prisoners are less healthy than the general population, and it could be a potential hotbed for future outbreaks.
In an interview with Mother Jones, Leah Pope, a senior research fellow at the Vera Institute, said, “jails are particularly more frightening because of massive turnover. More than half of the people in jail are only in there for two to three days. So, there are people coming in from the outside community, being exposed, and taking it back into the community, or the other way around.”
While Cuomo stated the sanitizer will also be made available to inmates, most hand sanitizers and soaps are not available to inmates as they contain too much alcohol. In fact, New York’s new hand sanitizer has a much higher alcohol level than the CDC’s recommendation of at least 60% alcohol.
Representative Ayanna Pressley tweeted in response to Cuomo’s announcement, “considering that many incarcerated men & women are subjected to inhumane conditions, including no hand soap, & hand sanitizer is banned in most prisons, this is especially demeaning, ironic & exploitative.”
Around the World
Other countries further along the coronavirus outbreak trajectory have had different experiences with their prison populations.
After China, the two most heavily hit countries are Iran and Italy, both of which have had different responses.
Iran took the drastic step of temporarily releasing 70,000 prisoners to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
“It’s amazing that Iran is ahead of us on that. But we’ve always had this problem with infectious diseases in prison and jails. Coronavirus is just bringing it to light,” said Pope.
The entire country of Italy is now under lockdown in an attempt to decrease coronavirus’s deadly spread throughout the country. As part of the heavy-handed measures, Italy has also put restrictions on the jail population.
Riots broke out in dozens of Italian jails after hearing the news that prison visits from outside would be severely limited. In one prison, six inmates died of an overdose after breaking into the prison’s prescription drug supply.
Italy has overcrowded prisons with 61,230 inmates, about 10,000 more than the country’s capacity.
If more severe preventative measures are on the horizon for Americans, the prison population is likely to be hit hard. And, if Italy and Iran inform us, the United States must take action fast to prevent virus spread and unrest.