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Tips to battle COVID-19 in our prisons and jails

Experts share ways correctional officers can help minimize the risk of contracting the coronavirus

In this episode of Tier Talk, Anthony Gangi, along with a panel of corrections experts, provides tips on how to battle the COVID-19 pandemic in prisons and jails.

The expert panel includes:

Darryl Smith, International Association of Correctional Training Personnel communications director

Smith discusses the risks of airborne transmission and the importance of maintaining proper hygiene habits. He urges officers to not touch their face, wear gloves, wash their hands frequently and practice correct coughing or sneezing etiquette (sneeze or cough into your elbow and throw away used tissues) to reduce exposure.

“Treat everyone as asymptomatic. Take precautions and assume anyone can spread it to you and you to them,” he said.

Luis Soto, retired New Jersey Department of Corrections major and criminal justice professor at Rutgers University

Soto explains how the N.J. DOC is ensuring staff members are working in a safe and clean environment. At the front entrance, right before anyone gets to the metal detector, employees are asked a variety of questions regarding possible symptoms or contact with anyone who has been infected. Employees must also wash their hands or use Purell wipes or hand sanitizer before entering the facility.

“It’s not a matter of if COVID-19 is going to make it into the facility, it’s more of a question of when and what do we do when that happens,” Soto said. If a staff member or inmate becomes symptomatic or COVID-19 positive, Soto says they have a variety of procedures in place, including isolation, testing and quarantining infected individuals.

William Young, correctional officer and author of “When Home Becomes a Housing Unit

Young talks about fear management and focuses his advice on how officers can separate fact from fiction. “What I found to be helpful was to cut out the majority of the noise. I found myself getting stressed out by the pressure of having everything crash down at once,” he said. “It was too much for me.”

He emphasized the importance of officers sticking to their local briefings, information provided by the CDC and WHO, as well as local broadcasting specific to your area.

“Focus on your neighborhood, your community, your facility and your family. We will make it through this together, as a family, like we always do.”

Connie Alleyne, CEO of Civilian Corrections Academy

Alleyne breaks down ways correctional staff can protect themselves and their family members from COVID-19, including the importance of “washing the day away” after shift.

“When you finish your shift, change your clothes outside so that you minimize the probability of bringing any of the germs in your car,” she said. If officers are unable to change their clothes before getting into the car, she recommends using a disposable covering on car seats.

She also stressed the importance of taking shoes off before officers go inside their homes. And, if officers are unable to change their clothes, she recommends practicing social distancing with family members until after their clothes are changed and the day is washed away.

Lastly, Gangi delves into when officers and inmates should wear protective masks. Because N95 masks are in limited supply, he recommends giving masks to restricted housing areas first.

“When inmates are moving, they’re cuffed and may not be able to cough into their arm,” he noted. The masks, he says, should go directly onto the inmates as well as the officers who are transporting them.

If facilities have additional masks, Gangi says they should provide other housing units with them, especially inmates in dorm settings. Furthermore, he cautions correctional officers against wearing a mask all day. “It becomes saturated and ineffective,” he said.

Tier Talk, hosted by Corrections1 columnist Anthony Gangi, features interviews with industry experts, conversations about hot topics and pressing issues, and offers lessons to new staff and old about the evolving and ever-changing field of corrections.
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