The nearly two million incarcerated people in the U.S. have a constitutional right to medical treatment. During the pandemic, many of them say they didn’t get it in time, Vox reports. Health care in U.S. jails and prisons was generally abysmal before the pandemic, and it appears to have declined further, even for those who were not among the astronomical number of people sickened or killed by COVID-19 while incarcerated. Basic requests for medical treatment often went unanswered as facilities stopped outside specialist appointments and attempted to navigate severe staffing shortages. Even as the initial crisis of the pandemic’s arrival has waned, many behind bars are still suffering the effects of denied or postponed care.
The alleged medical neglect adds to stark racial health disparities. People of color, particularly Blacks, are much more likely to be arrested and have been up to seven times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts. As of 2018, approximately one in every 44 Black men in the U.S. was locked up. Data about medical care in carceral facilities is nearly impossible to come by, Vox says, but two dozen people incarcerated in more than 15 facilities across 10 states during the pandemic have told Vox about frequent cancellations of appointments, months-long delays, denials of specialty treatment, lack of post-surgery follow-ups, and going months without daily medications. Over the course of three months of reporting, their stories have been backed up by documents, lawyers, and loved ones. As a result of this lack of care, some lost limbs, others lost their mobility, and all of those interviewed lost their pre-pandemic level of health.