|Keeping Correctional Facilities Healthy|
|By Robert Kravitz, President AlturaSolutions|
With all the news about coronavirus, many corrections administrators are wondering what they would do if the virus, or something similar, should spread in their facilities.
However, the truth of the matter is that correctional administrators are concerned about the transmission of disease virtually all the time. For instance, the flu is a big concern in many facilities at this time of year. The hard reality is that most correctional facilities were constructed to maximize public safety, not minimize the transmission of disease. This means viruses and infections can spread very quickly in these facilities.
The situation has grown worse over the years due to overcrowding, delays in getting medical attention and treatment for inmates, rationed access to soap, water, and laundry facilities in some locations, as well as insufficient infection control expertise. Lack of sterile needle exchange programs, inmate mental health issues, and poor personal hygiene among inmates, further makes it difficult to prevent the spread of disease within correctional facilities.
We should add, inmates are not the only ones that can fall victim to various diseases in correctional facilities. While staff may be healthier with stronger immune systems, if an infection spreads in a correctional location, it can attack anyone and everyone.
We could go on with several other issues, making it challenging to keep correctional facilities healthy. However, let's concentrate on some specific steps administrators can take now and throughout the year to protect inmate and staff health.
For instance, a first step is to ensure staff and inmates have access to handwashing areas with soap. Antibacterial-type soaps are not needed. Studies have found they are no more effective than traditional soap. Because of this, administrators are advised not to pay extra for antibacterial soaps.
Other steps they can take are the following:
Inmates are often involved in the preparation and distribution of food. All food handlers, staff as well as inmates, should be checked to see that they do not have open sores on their hands or arms; have respiratory problems, jaundice, or have recently experienced vomiting or diarrhea.
Inmates selected to perform food handling duties must be taught proper food handling practices as well as adhere to appropriate personal hygiene standards. Administrators should also routinely inspect food service areas, ensuring they are properly cleaned and maintained after use.
Inmates commonly wash their clothing and linens in a bucket, sink, or plastic bag using soap and water. While this process may remove soils, it does little to kill pathogens and stop the spread of disease. Typically, bleach and detergents are not available to inmates. As a result, the most effective way to clean these items and reliably remove potentially harmful pathogens is to encourage inmates to use the institution's laundry.
Most public barbershops will place commonly used tools such as combs in alcohol when not in use. This helps keep them sanitized. This is not always the case in correctional facilities. Inmates perform most haircuts in correctional facilities. While some may have proven their hair cutting skills, they are not always educated on the importance of cleaning barbering tools and regularly disinfecting them after use. This is an oversight that can be quickly addressed with training and education.
While coronavirus may be in the news, its outbreaks of flu that are one of the most common diseases in correctional facilities. Some observers refer to correctional facilities as "chronic-care" locations. This means that the care of inmates, as well as staff, is in the hands of administrators. Merely ensuring that staff and inmates are vaccinated each year against influenza is the most practical way of reducing outbreaks of this virus.
Along with proper handwashing, one of the most significant steps administrators can take to protect health in correctional facilities is through proper cleaning. In many correctional facilities, kitchen areas, floors, and common areas are cleaned the same way they have been cleaned for dozens of years, with mops, buckets, sprayers, rags, etc. We now know that many of these methods, especially the use of mops, is not healthy. "Mops spread disease," is a mantra all correctional administrators should adopt.
To address this, some correctional facilities now use spray-and-vac (no-touch) cleaning systems. These systems apply cleaning solutions and disinfectants to surfaces and floors, power rinse these same areas to loosen soil, and then use the machine to vacuum up moisture and contaminants. One Illinois correctional facility has found them so useful they have taken the next step, teaching inmates how to use these machines and learn other cleaning "best practices." The goals are twofold: improve the health of the facility and help inmates get jobs once they are outside.
Ultimately, the health of our correctional facilities is in the hands of administrators. In many ways, they really are chronic-care facilities. It's a challenge and a heavy weight to carry, but these steps, and there are many more, can help protect the health of inmates and staff.
Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the corrections industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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