Mysterious prison transfers raise questions about COVID

Missouri

BONNE TERRE, Mo. – Inmates and families are describing chaos in Missouri prisons over mysterious transfers. One woman claimed the Missouri Department of Corrections lost track of her husband.

Ronnie McGowan is listed on the Department of Corrections website as being in Potosi, but he’s not there. McGowan’s wife, Kanoi Arms, says she got a call Saturday from a prison number she didn’t recognize.

“Immediately after pressing 1 I said, ‘Where are you?’ And that’s exactly what I said and he said, ‘They moved me.’ He said that his cell mate at Potosi tested positive for COVID and that they moved him and about 50 to 70 other inmates over to Bonne Terre. He didn’t understand why.”

When we contacted the Department of Corrections, a spokesperson wrote, “Mr. McGowan’s facility is currently listed as Potosi Correctional Center. We don’t transfer into a general population anyone who is positive for COVID-19 or who has been in close contact with a positive.”

Arms said she was also told her husband was still in Potosi.

“Nobody seems to know but me. I feel like I’ve been the whistleblower in this situation,” she said. “I don’t know how many other families know that their family member has been placed in this situation.”

FOX 2 called directly to the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, where the warden’s office confirmed Ronnie McGowan is, in fact, at ERDCC in Bonne Terre. They described him as a “sleeper,” which the warden’s office described as a “temporary placement.”

“I’ve never heard of the Department of Corrections losing track of an inmate,” said Tim Cutt, Missouri Corrections Officers Association. “That’s just unheard of.”

Cutt said it’s shocking for the central office to list an inmate at the wrong location.

“If you’re getting information that this guy is in Potosi from the Department of Corrections, they’re looking that up on their own internal system. And that will tell you exactly where the person’s living at, what housing unit, what cell number, what bunk he’s living on, whether it’s top or bottom bunk. They should know this,” he said. “It’s pretty scary…If you lose track of one inmate, how many others don’t you know where they’re at?”

Additionally, the Department of Corrections said this about FOX 2’s question regarding prison transfers: “Regular transfers are still on hold; transfers take place only under special circumstances.”

A group called MO Prison Reform said they’ve also heard from several families impacted by prison transfers reportedly due to COVID.

Kanoi said she finally got an answer from Bonne Terre’s warden about the possible reason.

“They consider this a quarantine. He’s being sent back to Potosi after this. My husband has been placed in a unit or a dorm with all of the people that they have suspected have either come in contact with COVID or are positive,” she said.

We’ll continue to follow up to find out what officials says about the transfers and why they’re apparently not showing up in the state’s internal system.

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