MRSA and jails and public reaction

I have a GoogleNews Alert set to crawl for any new posts that mention MRSA. The Google crawler goes pretty deep and often finds things that I would not have known to look for; this week, it has produced a letter to the editor about conditions in a women’s jail in South Florida.

The letter itself is interesting, but the public reaction to it, in the form of comments on the website where it was reproduced, is breathtaking.

Here’s a quick recap: A woman named Susan M. Woods writes in the letters to the editor on TCPalm.com (which appears, after some drilling, to be a joint site for the Stuart, Fla. Treasure Coast News/Press-Tribune, the Vero Beach Press Journal, the Jupiter Courier, and the Sebastian Sun) about conditions at the Indian River County Jail, where she has been an inmate:

The absolute squalor women are forced to live in is similar to a Third World country. Backed-up toilets, black mold, roaches all around, and nothing to clean the common areas except diluted Windex — it’s frightening. It should be no surprise to hear that at least seven women have gotten MRSA — a staph infection — in as many months.

It will not surprise any of you who follow news about MRSA that jails and prisons are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks; the Los Angeles County Jail epidemic (first described in this MMWR article and further described in this one and covered in this book, which was written by, umm, me) has been going on for half a decade at this point and has affected thousands of prisoners. That there is an outbreak in a jail in Florida is exasperating and sad.

But that people in Indian River County think prisoners somehow deserve staph is just astounding. In the comments on Woods’ letter, they say:

In my opinion, someone with Susan’s alleged criminal record deserves far worse conditions in her cell than what she is describing in her letters.

You are supposed to not want to be there you idiot. That’s why its like living in a third world county.

The conditions in jail are horrendous but people keep coming back. What should the taxpayers do then? Take money away from roads, schools, emergency services to make sure the jails are clean, bright and cheery? Or hope that the bad conditions convince just one moron to obey the law.

If I understand the trolls commenters correctly, they believe that prisoners forgo human rights to such an extent that it is an appropriate part of their punishment to subject them to infectious diseases. So, OK: If they are unmoved to care for their fellow humans, we will leave them to their karma.

But really: Don’t they want to take care of themselves? It is well-established by now that MRSA in jails does not stay in jails: It moves out into the community when inmates who acquire it in jail are released and return to the outside. So unless you’re going to argue that people in jail should remain there indefinitely — which seems impractical given the rate at which we put people away — to be concerned about MRSA in jails is self-protection if nothing else.

Maryn

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