Staff Bring Virus Into Prisons, Infecting Inmates

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More than 300 COVID-19 cases are confirmed in New York, California, Michigan, Alabama and a dozen other states, reports the Associated Press. Authorities note that even though most outside prison visits have stopped, hundreds of thousands of guards, wardens and other correctional facility administrators go in and out 24 hours a day, potentially carrying the coronavirus to their families and communities.” Some in custody are afraid to report symptoms because they’ve seen others placed in solitary confinement for doing so. Many corrections departments do not identify affected facilities or name those who test positive, citing privacy concerns.

In New York City, 80 staff and 103 men in custody have tested positive at Rikers Island and city jails alone as of Friday. Homer Venters, jail system medical officer, called on authorities to “rapidly empty these facilities of everyone with risk factors for serious illness and death, and create pathways to hospital-level care.” Already, New York, Ohio, Florida and a few other states have started letting some people out — the elderly, pre-trial detainees, those held on technical violations and low-level offenders at high-risk of severe illness. Some health advocates say thousands more need to be freed. “It’s like we are expendable,” said inmate Nascimento Blair at Fishkill prison in upstate New York, where prisoners were told of four staff infections. Elijah Prioleau, in Wisconsin’s Waupun Correctional Institution on a three-year revocation after serving 16 years in prison, said sick people are not being tested. Instead, they are sent to another area even though there are still healthy prisoners housed there.

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