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Swine Flu and Correctional Security
By William Sturgeon
Published: 05/04/2009

Chest xray Editors note: Corrections.com author, William Sturgeon, is an emergency preparedness and counterterrorism planning expert. He has more than 35 years of experience in the criminal justice field, and has managed security operations for sheriffs’ offices and correctional agencies across the United States.

While the extent of the Swine Flu / H1N1 Virus, is still unknown, those of us in the field of corrections need to begin implementing our policies for Pandemic and/or non-emergency medical events. Some of the steps that I am recommending you take immediately are what I would do if I were operating an agency or institution.

I am approaching this from a security-operations standpoint, not from a medical or political standpoint. Operating corrections, detention and juvenile facilities requires us, at times, to take preemptive actions to ward-off problems. Mitigating the effects of contagious flu is, I believe, one of those times.

Correctional institutions are “close contact” environments and are ripe for the spreading of the disease.

From a security-operations standpoint, I would recommend that agencies, and institutions, both adult and juvenile, consider the following for implementation:
  • Suspend all contact visits if you are in a state and/ or a region of the country where the visitors might be coming from Mexico and/or where there is an outbreak of the H1N1 Virus.
  • Reduce all visiting hours if you are in a state and/ or a region of the country where the visitors might be coming from Mexico and/or where there is an outbreak of the H1N1 Virus.
  • Instruct Officers working at Visitors Reception on signs and symptoms of flu so that the officers can refuse a person’s visiting Privileges until he/she is no longer symptomatic. (It would be ideal if Medical Personnel could be assigned to the Visitors Reception to conduct visitor screening.)
  • Post signs (in all appropriate languages) explaining why the precautionary rules are being implemented - to protect their family members, the visitors and staff from possibly contracting and/or spreading the H1N1 Virus.
  • Communicate via the media, inmate advocacy groups, etc, the temporary visiting hours and rules.
  • Suspend all volunteers from coming into the facility - The fewer people coming into the facility, reduces the number of people who could be carriers of the H1N1 Virus.
  • Instruct staff of precautions - to frequently wash hands, and to keep their hands away from their eyes, mouth and face. (Wearing protective gloves is fine but the same cautions apply. Hands and face precautions should be followed. Change gloves often as you move from one area to another and/or from one person to another. Also, follow the proper procedures for removing protective gloves.)
  • Disinfect all visiting areas where the public had access. After visiting has concluded, the visiting areas should be thoroughly disinfected with solutions recommended by the CDC and/or by your state’s or local public health department.
  • Medical departments must review and be ready to implement their Quarantine protocols. If incarcerated offenders, detainees or juveniles become ill with the H1N1 Virus they should, in my opinion, be placed in Quarantine Housing. (Staff and offenders, etc, perhaps the entire facility, should start the anti-viral drug protocol. As much as possible, all outside contact should be suspended until the facility is clear of the outbreak.)
  • Offenders should not be permitted to congregate in large groups. Enforcing this restriction will be difficult for the administration and staff. For example, recreation will have to be in small group groups – which means more time for recreation periods for shorter periods of time. (Offenders should be informed of any/all changes and the rationale for the changes. For institutions who conduct “mainline feeding”, they should consider in-unit/cell feeding – to reduce contact.)
  • Staff who report to work and who are symptomatic should be sent home and placed on sick leave.
  • Offenders who have been identified as being infected with the H1N1 Virus MUST have their living areas thoroughly disinfected and, if necessary, “soft articles” (pillows, etc.) should be either cleaned or disposed of following the prescribed protocol by the CDC, or state / local Public Health Agencies.

The N1H1 Virus/Swine Flu could easily overtake correctional and/or any close environment because it is spread by person-to-person contact. Taking preemptive precautions is, in my opinion, good correctional practice. Perhaps there are those who might disagree with me and would wait until either offenders or staff become infected with the H1N1 Virus or the Government declares a Pandemic. My response to those who disagree with my preemptive advice is to think about the last time your facility had an outbreak of Lice or Scabies and how quickly it spread through the facility. Corrections presents a “unique” living environment where contagious diseases can spread, if unchecked, throughout the entire offender population and staff very quickly.

It is also crucial to communicate the most current information about the H1N1 Virus to the offender population and staff. If, in fact, this H1N1 Virus does become a real Pandemic, it will drastically affect the operations of correctional facilities worldwide.

While there is still time, I suggest that all correctional agencies and facilities critically review their Pandemic Plans. When conducting the review, I would recommend that particular attention be paid to operating with seriously reduced staffing for a long period of time. The reduced staffing would be in every department, from security to foodservice.

I hope that this is not the Pandemic that the Government and others have been warning us about, but the field of corrections cannot take that chance. Corrections MUST err on the side of caution, in my opinion.

For more information about the Health Issues associated with Swine Flu/H1N1 Virus, contact your local/state health department and/or checkout these web sites:

Red Cross Pandemic Flu
Google Map - Flu web site

Other articles by this author


  1. Jon on 05/06/2009:

    I believe this is a case of, "Chicken Little." Flu (regardless of strain) kills 36,000 people annually in the US alone. We cannot live life without risk. Minimizing risk is one thing...overstating the threat is another. I have lived my entire life of 50 years at the red-level, let alone orange or yellow. I am sick of all the fear - mongering and overstating of the issue.

  2. Colin Rosewarne on 05/05/2009:

    Great article - the potential for a pandemic to reak havoc in correctional facilities world-wide is greatly under estimated. Keep up the great work. Colin Rosewarne Victoria, Australia.

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