prisons

‘6 Feet Apart is Not a Thing in Our Prison.’ Correction Officers Share Takes on Coronavirus Precautions

Correction Officers Share Take on Coronavirus Precautions with NBC CT Investigates

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Questions remain about how well coronavirus can be contained in our state prisons. 

A week ago, the Connecticut Department of Correction announced more than 100 prisoners tested in one of its facilities tested positive for the virus.  System-wide, there have been six coronavirus-related inmate deaths.

It has begged the question, is the Connecticut Department of Correction taking enough steps to protect inmates?   Earlier this spring, the agency said it reduced its prison population by 945 inmates to help mitigate the problem, along with many other steps, but some say that’s not enough.

George Hancock said he worries about his cousin at the McDougall-Walker prison.  

“I have a cousin up there that’s very ill.  And he calls me periodically.”

He said his cousin has medical issues that could make him more susceptible to possibly deadly complications from coronavirus. 

“He said, 'Cuz, I don't want to be carried out of here dead.' He has a problem with his respiratory system," Hancock said.

From April 24 to May 4 NBC Connecticut Investigates surveyed more than 300 Connecticut correction officers.  Correction officer concern over the spread of coronavirus in DOC facilities is almost off the charts.  

On a scale of one to five, nearly 83% of correction officers that responded to our survey gave that concern a five, five being the highest.

Respondents criticized what they consider the DOC’s lack of regard for social distancing to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

They told us:

All inmate movement is … within tight corridors or a 10x7 cell sometimes with 2 officers and 2 inmates in that cell at the same time. 

...inmates are still being allowed to congregate in groups much larger than 5, 10 or even 15. When a unit is out for recreation, it can be up to 52 inmates.

Many made suggestions, like:

Practice social distancing by enforcing 6 feet apart at recreation, have the inmates eat in their cells, stagger showers, eliminate all contact sports.

Also consider what President of AFSCME Local 391 CT State Prison Employees Union Collin Provost told NBC Connecticut Investigates:

“Not everywhere in the institutions do we have just people just locked up in cells, there are many places where people are incarcerated in a dorm type of scenario.”

The DOC did not give us an on-camera interview.  Some of the measures it said it has taken to deal with inmates living in proximity during the pandemic include:

  • requiring staff and inmates to wear masks
  • suspended volunteer and vendor access
  • limited inmate transfers between prisons
  • centralized prisoners with coronavirus to one location
  • introduce a new cleaning technology called a “Power Breezer” to disinfect large areas

Hancock said neither he nor his cousin are reassured. 

“There’s sometimes they all get together in the germs, it's catchable up there.”

There have been suits filed against the state in both state and federal court demanding more at-risk inmates get early release because of coronavirus.  The state has been arguing prisoners have no right to be released prior to the end of their sentences, it would be irresponsible to release large numbers of inmates at one time, and, the inmate’s claims are based on alleged injuries that are too speculative.

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