As a jail nurse, I have treated many inmates suffering from mental conditions that seem to run rampant within the jail and prison systems. These medical conditions are attributed to small areas of confinement which house numerous inmates. These inmates share small cells to sleep in and small common areas for eating, bathing and rare free time.
Inmates are usually housed two to a small cell. This cell consists of a small bunk-bed type cot, and a toilet. The toilet is a small metal toilet and where the toilet bowl lid is on a conventional toilet, there is a small sink. The common area contains several metal tables that look just like picnic tables. Attached to the tables are six small circular stools that are additionally concreted into the floor. Three inmates sit closely side by side on each side of the table for meals. On each side of the common area are shower stalls. The shower stalls have a wall on each side, but no door so that the guards may observe them at all times. There are also several toilets in the commons area as well.
Obviously, the cells and common areas are very small and numerous inmates share these common spaces. When someone gets a cold or flu, it is common for many if not most to contract it as well. However, there are several medical conditions that run rampant through the inmate population and this is in large fact due to so many people sharing such a small space. Additionally, inmates are responsible for cleaning these spaces and many do not care if they effectively clean these spaces. They simply use it as time that they get to be out of their cell.
Though most skin rashes are not contagious and are often an immune response to contact with some sort of allergen such as poison ivy, some are contagious. Many inmates have to be forced to take showers as many experience depression after being incarcerated and lose the will to clean themselves. It is easy for one person to acquire a skin infection and spread it to others in these tiny cells and common areas.
Most people have probably heard of or became familiar with MRSA, or Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. This is a hard-to-treat and vicious staph infection which has become resistant to most antibiotic medications. Treatment usually requires two or more antibiotics. These antibiotics are often very strong, and only used for severe infections as they produce many unwanted and sometimes severe side effects. MRSA can be airborne or systemic, but is generally found on the skin. It produces blisters and severe skin breakdown. This infection is easily spread between inmates sharing cells, clothing, and razors. Additionally, inmates with active MRSA infections can leave spores in shower stalls, on toilets, and eating tables which are easily picked up by other inmates. This is one of the most, if not the most, common medical condition that is spread within the jail and prison communities.
While tuberculosis is not as prevalent as it was in days passed, it is still around. I used to think that tuberculosis had been almost eradicated, but learned otherwise when I entered the nursing profession. This infection is spread through the air and is easily contracted if around an infected person. There are treatments available to cure those who are ill, but this treatment is often lengthy and requires approximately six weeks of hospitalization. The infected person must remain in a reverse isolation room and visitors are usually not allowed. All persons who come into contact with the patient must wear full personal protective equipment and respirators when entering their room.
Within the jail and prison populations, all cells are inside of the common area which is sealed off from the guard towers and remainder of the facility. If an inmate arrives with an active Tuberculosis infection, it can spread like wildfire. In fact, tuberculosis is now most prevalent in jails and prisons. The infected inmate will cough and release droplets of the infection into the air which can travel far on air currents throughout the entire jail block. Droplets are inhaled by other inmates and the infection will then begin to spread. For this reason, inmates are tested for Tuberculosis upon arrival and on a regular basis within the jail and prison systems as this infection could be devastating.
By utilizing proper cleaning techniques and daily cleaning of cells and common areas, these infections which are very common in the jail and prison system populations could be greatly reduced and possibly eradicated. It is important to spread this knowledge within the medical and layperson communities so that we can all do our part to reduce infections such as tuberculosis which could turn into local pandemic situations, however unlikely. In any case, jails and prisons are not ideal places to be and it is my dream that we will someday reach a point in our evolution in which there will not be a need for them any longer.