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Female Prisons, Historically Overlooked, are Higher Risk for Covid-19

WILL WALKEY, HOST : Prisons are becoming hotspots for spread of the coronavirus in the US. Overcrowding, lack of hygiene, and access to medical attention is cause for concern. And that’s especially true for female inmates, who tend to have higher rates of pre-existing conditions than male inmates do. Megan Cattel reports.


MEGAN CATTEL, BYLINE: Half a dozen protestors gathered across the street from the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County today. Two weeks ago, an inmate there named Darlene Benson-Seay died from Coronavirus.

CATTEL: Dressed in black t-shirts and surgical masks, they held up signs that read “CUOMO LET THEM GO” and live-streamed the rally on Zoom. They called for the prisons to release inmates and for them to be supplied with proper PPE while incarcerated.

Javeda Senhouse was incarcerated at Bedford for five years and still keeps in touch with women inside the prison. She says women currently inside Bedford have told her they’re not getting PPE or soap for handwashing.

JAVEDA SENHOUSE: I'm hearing my friend don't have a mask. She don't have she wasn't issued a mask up and yet. She’s wearing a pillowcase round her face right now.

CATTEL: Bedford Correctional Facilities didn’t respond to a request for comment about its safety protocols. Neither did state officials, But a report from New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision says it is supplying surgical masks to all inmates and is isolating those who may be exposed to the virus. As of the end of April, Governor Andrew Cuomo has also ordered the release of over one thousand people in jail for violating parole. has released over 100 inmates aged 50 or older.

CATTEL: But women’s prisons have historically received less attention and resources, says Brenda Smith, a professor of law at American University.

BRENDA SMITH: In any strategy that had anything to do with prisons, that they will also be the last to receive resources.

CATTEL: Smith says that’s especially troubling now since women in custody also have higher rates of pre-existing conditions than incarcerated men and the general population. Illnesses like diabetes, asthma, and blood disorders that increase the risk of complications if they contract coronavirus.

Megan Cattel, Columbia Radio News.

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