Letters to the Editor: A prison doctor’s stark warning on coronavirus, jails and prisons

An inmate flashes a hand signal at Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.
An inmate flashes a hand signal at Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.
(Reed Saxon / Associated Press)

To the editor: Thanks to the L.A. Times Editorial Board for bringing the state of our prisons into sharp focus during the COVID-19 epidemic. As a physician with 30 years of prison experience, I know these are crucial issues.

Prisons are petri dishes for contagious respiratory illnesses. We who work inside them will inevitably be exposed, probably repeatedly, and are very likely to become ill with COVID-19.

We may stop visitors from bringing the coronavirus into prison, but there is no way to stop the daily flow of guards, teachers, food service and healthcare workers. Someone is certain to bring the virus in and take it back out while they are asymptomatic.


As the editorial notes, social distancing is impossible in prison, where inmates live two or sometimes three in a cell and work communally every day.

More difficult is the fact we just do not have sufficient protective equipment for our healthcare workers, nor do we have sufficient medical resources to care for those who will become seriously or critically ill. Those inmates will need care in community hospitals.

Prisons are among the most densely packed places on Earth, which promotes any epidemic. There is no way to seal prisons off from society at large, nor is there any way to seal off our society from the stark conditions likely to develop in our prisons.

Sadly, prisons cannot always protect us.

Dr. Ross Quinn, Victorville