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In New Jersey State Prison (NJSP), prisoners are testing positive for COVID-19 again as the Delta variant sweeps the country. 

According to several incarcerated workers who work in the quarantine unit, there were at least 14 men, who have been escorted there recently. Some of them were Muslim and had not attended Jum’ah midday prayer on Friday. 

Another worker in the prison’s North compound said that two officers tested positive for COVID-19.  

On Saturday, Aug. 7, visitations between incarcerated residents and their loved ones were moved to the South Compound Visit Hall, where they are once again being held in an outside courtyard under canopies. There is no contact allowed, and visitors must sit at a distance of 6 feet.

Additionally, prisoners were informed that all religious services would once again be limited to 25 participants for a half-hour at a time starting on Monday, Aug. 16. Religious classes have also been cancelled until further notice.

So far, the prison administration has not provided information about the latest cases of the coronavirus. The last time, New Jersey Department of Corrections had updated its COVID-19 tracking on its website was May 22, 2021. 

The COVID-19 cases here at NJSP come at a time when the numbers have been increasing across the country, including in prisons. On Saturday, San Quentin State Prison in California, which had one of the worst outbreaks in the country, declared another outbreak and placed most of the prison under quarantine after four prisoners in one cellblock tested positive for the virus. 

At NJSP, a large percentage of prison guards, civilian employees and prisoners are still not vaccinated, and there continues to be a divide about the seriousness of the pandemic. Some residents are worried about the possibility of another lockdown while others are concerned about their safety.

The prison population was informed via electronic message on their Jpay tablets that the New Jersey Department of Health has implemented a four-step color-coded guideline for prison visits. Prison administration said NJSP was currently under code yellow, which allows for visits with social distancing in masks. Code orange allows for limited visits for fully vaccinated prisoners and code red, the strictest level, prohibits all visits, allowing prisoners five free stamps per month instead to keep in touch with their families. 

 

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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Tariq MaQbool

Tariq MaQbool is a contributing writer at the Prison Journalism Project and maintains Captive Voices, a blog where he shares his poetry and essays as well as the writings of other incarcerated people. He was convicted of double homicide in 2005 and is serving 150 years at the New Jersey State Prison. His work has been published in The Marshall Project and The News Station.