At at least one major prison- Rikers Island in New York- authorities have released dozens of inmates over fears that they may have contracted the virus. Many county jails are doing the same.
At least 38 people at Rikers Island have contracted COVID-19 and dozens more have likely been exposed to it, the Associated Press reports.
Prison officers and staff in states including California and Michigan have tested positive for the virus, and in Wisconsin, 18 inmates at a prison were quarantined last week after a facility doctor tested positive for the virus, according to reporting from the AP.
In Los Angeles county, which has the largest prison population of any county in the United States, prisoners with non-violent criminal records and who have between two and three months left of their sentences are being released.
Alvarez said he is also continuing to assist with what are known as "extractions"- per state policy, if an inmate refuses to leave his cell, a doctor, a nurse, or a chaplain must be brought in and try to talk the inmate out of his cell before the deputies are allowed to use force.
He said he was recently asked to assist with an extraction whereby the inmate was informed that he was being released, but he didn't believe that it was really happening.
"This guy didn't want to go home. He didn't want to leave," Alvarez said.
Alvarez said the jail has prepared two entire floors for quarantine, but as of March 21, no inmates are there.
He said the inmates' attitudes are mixed during this time of uncertainty, and he said the chaplains are trying to reassure the inmates that they are in many ways safer inside than jail
"Some want to stay in, some want to go home and be with their families and protect their families," he said.
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"There's nothing more that they can say or do."
In at least two states, Arizona and Minnesota, prison officials have waived copays charged to inmates for medical visits and waived fees for personal hygiene supplies, NPR reports. A California senator is advocating that all low-risk inmates be released nationwide.
In California, prison officials announced that a prisoner at California State Prison, Los Angeles County, has tested positive for COVID-19, and in addition, at least five prison workers have the disease, the LA Times reports.
California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a statewide, mandatory stay at home order on March 19 that workers in critical sectors should go to work. Grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and more will stay open, the governor said.
Gonzalo de Vivero, director of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles' Office of Restorative Justice, told CNA that he has been getting calls constantly from his chaplains, asking whether they can continue to do their ministry.
Every jail makes its own rules, he said, and for now the county jails are still allowing chaplains in.