Elon Law scholar discusses COVID-19 in prisons for N.C. podcast

“It’s a vector for disease spread.” Assistant Professor Taleed El-Sabawi spoke with Stephanie Carson of Carolina Public Press for an episode of “The Kicker” exploring the dynamics of a pandemic in North Carolina’s penal system.

Assistant Professor Taleed El-Sabawi

An Elon Law faculty member was a featured guest on a recent podcast produced by Carolina Public Press focused on outbreaks of COVID-19 in state prisons and why advocates are seeking court intervention to address concerns arising from the pandemic.

Assistant Professor Taleed El-Sabawi spoke with host Stephanie Carson for a January episode of “The Kicker.” She was joined in the podcast by Jordan Wilkie, a reporter at Carolina Public Press, and Leah Kang, a staff attorney at the ACLU of North Carolina.

El-Sabawi, an expert in public health and health services management, reflected on COVID-19 outbreaks in the state prison system from two points of view.

“From a public health perspective, you have the risk of creating large, widespread COVID outbreaks not only in a correctional facility (but in) surrounding communities because there are people who work there and return to the community. It’s a vector for disease spread,” she said. “From a legal perspective, there is a constitutional duty that requires correctional facilities to provide health care for persons who are incarcerated.

“When people in facilities get COVID, there’s the cost of providing treatment, and that cost is significantly more than preventative measures would have been.”

El-Sabawi said that while North Carolina isn’t the best state in addressing the COVID crisis in its state prisons, it’s also not the worst, in part because it has prioritized vaccine distribution for those who are incarcerated and who work in prisons.

“The key to truly controlling COVID outbreaks in the prison system is to decrease the number of people who are housed in dormitory style, roommate style scenarios,” she said. That can be done by looking at early release for prisoners who are near the end of their sentences or those who are serving time for non-violent crimes such as being arrested for low levels of drug possession.

El-Sabawi had previously spoken with Carolina Public Press for “Chronic NC prison problems predate pandemic, will outlast it,” the second installment in a two-part report. Her remarks on “The Kicker” provided a deeper analysis of the issue.

El-Sabawi has a Doctor of Philosophy in Public Health, Health Services Management and Policy. She practiced law in California and Nevada after earning her law degree from the University of Texas School of Law, where she was articles editor of the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights. El-Sabawi graduated magna cum laude from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology.

Her research focus is in the areas of mental health and addiction policies, with particular attention to the intersection of drug policy, health law, and legislation, especially legislative responses to the opioid crisis.