New COVID infections in New Jersey State Prison trigger another lockdown. PBA Christmas party may be responsible.

Tariq MaQbool, who is incarcerated at New Jersey State Prison and is a contributing writer at the Prison Journalism Project, says a new wave of COVID-19 infections is surging in the prison because guards are not adhering to COVID protocols. Canva illustration.

By Tariq MaQbool

A new wave of COVID-19 infections is surging in New Jersey State Prison (NJSP). Currently, over 100 officers and prisoners have tested positive. And multiple housing units inside the prison are either on complete Isolation, quarantine, and, or lockdown due to the spread, according to a senior lieutenant and a corrections officer.

Quarantine on multiple housing units in NJSP continues for a minimum of 14 days. All positive cases are being placed on the condemned 7-wing on the old west compound of NJSP. The unit is once again opened up for emergency housing.

In addition, the food service is also running on a skeleton crew with volunteers from among the prisoners. Moreover, quarantine housing units are being served breakfast cereal and cold-cut sandwiches every single day.

And due to the shortage of staff because of the COVID-19 spread, all yard and gymnasium schedules are suspended and prisoners are being kept locked in their cells.
As the prison is only testing for the DELTA variant, there is no way of actually knowing about any OMICRON-related infections within the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) facilities, said one nurse who does testing for the COVID-19 virus in our housing unit.
The reality is that the purported restrictions are more in name than in practice. And the brunt of the restrictions is usually laden on the prisoners rather than the officers and employees who obviously have actual contact with the outside world.
The current virus spread coincided with an annual PBA Local 105 Christmas party. Subsequent to that event, over 100 corrections officers from NJSP tested positive and the wave of infections within the prison population followed.
A senior corrections officer, who wanted to remain anonymous said, “they are crazy, no one was wearing a mask and with drinking and dancing, this was going to happen.’’ He told me he left early and some other officers did not go to that event for that very reason.
Every single day, those prisoners who go for medical treatment at the NJSP North Compound Medical Clinic are placed in a small, cramped waiting room that is the size of a bathroom with a bathtub. The corrections officer in charge, who is well known for her disrespectful manner among the prisoners, often places over a dozen men in the waiting room, sitting shoulder to shoulder for 30-45 minutes on average on connecting wooden benches.
I have complained, and many other prisoners have complained, about this inexplicable practice that fell on deaf ears.
In addition, the masking issue remains a point of contention among the officers. Where prisoners are often chided for not properly wearing their masks, the officers carelessly roam about the prison building without any masks. This practice is brazenly done under the view of the ever-present cameras.
After originally being nonchalant, the NJDOC and NJSP administrations’ efforts have been admirable in making COVID-19 vaccines and boosters available to the prison population. However, the problem with the lack of any mandates, or meaningful repercussions, for the officers who refuse to get vaccinated, due to their political and professed personal views, has added to the continuous virus spread among the NJDOC prisoners where they have no physical contact with the outside world.
The legal ramifications of prisoners’ forced exposure to the infections due to actions of NJDOC officers and employees is another avenue that remains to be explored.
Tariq MaQbool is a contributing writer at the Prison Journalism Project. He maintains Captive Voices, a blog where he shares his poetry and essays and 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.