“If you spend even just a couple of minutes in any jail or prison area, you would quickly find that many of the sinks there for handwashing don’t work, or that there are no paper towels or no soap,” Dr. Homer Venters, a physician, epidemiologist and the former chief medical officer of the NYC Correctional Health Services told the Brennan Center for Justice.
In order to access personal hygiene products that aren’t routinely provided or made readily available, incarcerated people are frequently forced to pay jacked-up commissary prices.
A survey of price points across state and federal prisons shows that a single bar of soap can cost more than $2. Those prisoners who do have the opportunity to work either earn nothing or mere pennies on the dollar for their jobs, making these basic necessities cost prohibitive.
Overcrowding and the innate architecture of many jails and prisons—where prisoners are frequently double- and triple-bunked, sharing one toilet—defy social distancing, too. Right now, a handful of states and many prisons in the federal system have far more occupants than they were designed to hold.
This translates to dangerously close quarters and filthy conditions in which communicable diseases can spread rapidly.