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Articles by Keri Blakinger

Omicron Has Arrived. Many Prisons and Jails Are Not Ready.

Experts fear “another potential tinderbox scenario” akin to the early days of the pandemic.

by Beth Schwartzapfel and Keri Blakinger

In the Philadelphia jail, the number of COVID-19 cases has tripled in the last two months. In Chicago’s lockup, infections have increased 11-fold in the same period. And in New York, city jails are struggling with a mushrooming 13-fold increase in less than a month.

From local lockups in California to prisons in Wisconsin to jails in Pennsylvania, COVID-19 is once again surging behind bars, posing a renewed threat to a high-risk population with spotty access to healthcare and little ability to distance.

At this point it’s unclear whether the surge in infections is due to the highly contagious omicron variant. Still, as caseloads across the country skyrocket and omicron becomes the dominant variant, experts worry the coronavirus is once again poised to sweep through jails and prisons. As in the world outside prison bars, many incarcerated people are struggling with pandemic fatigue. They’re also facing uncertain access to booster shots, widespread vaccine hesitancy and pandemic-driven staffing shortfalls that have created even harsher conditions.

As with previous iterations of the virus, everything about prisons and jails makes them a setup ...

How Long Can You Hide a Dead Body in a Prison Cell?

Mental-health problems, short staffing plague a Texas lockup in COVID lockdown.

It wasn’t until Cornelius Harper asked prison staff to check on his cellmate that they realized the man was dead. Had been dead for at least three days. Had been choked and beaten so badly he had dried blood and bruises all over his face.

Given that the prison was on lockdown, there weren’t many suspects. Harper hasn’t been charged, but officials say he killed his cellie and tried to hide it, covering the body with a sheet that rippled in the breeze from the cracked window, mimicking movement.

Some officials have suggested that Harper may have done more, perhaps positioning and repositioning the body of 26-year-old Silvino Núñez to make it seem as if he were alive ...