Prisons in pandemic; and their connection to hospitals

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JEFFERSON CITY, MO – A prisoner and retired Corrections’ Captain talk about what it’s like inside the prisons in the coronavirus pandemic.

Retired Captain Steve Perkins said officers are “…mostly concerned about their families.

Perkins retired after 33 years and now moderates Facebook groups for active officers.

“It gives them a chance to express their opinions. I can see what’s going on around the state,” said Steve Perkins, Retired Captain.

Perkins says he’s heard concerns of gatherings in some prisons – like for church.

“The officers are telling me there’s maybe 50 or 60 offenders in the chapel service.”

Reporter Chris Hayes asked, “They’re still holding those?”

Perkins responded, “They were yesterday, yes.”

The Department of Corrections spokesperson told me “without details regarding which facility you’re referring to, when the church service was held, etc., I’m not able to comment on this particular situation. Generally speaking, in a prison setting, it’s difficult to keep people six feet apart and adhere to some other social distancing norms being observed in the larger community.”

A prisoner, during a recorded phone call with his father says it’s hard for him not knowing what’s happening outside his cell.

He said, “If they’re showing any sign of a mild fever, any sign, they’ll quarantine ‘em.” He continued, “They walked a sergeant out. They didn’t let him in because he had like a 99 fever.”

The prisoner added that he’s concerned about hospital laundry that comes in from all across Missouri into the Farmington prison to be washed. He said, “(Prison staff) called me back from the caseworkers office asking me if I wanted to go work laundry. I said I can’t. I don’t have education and I don’t want to touch anything that comes from a freaking hospital.”

A D.O.C’s spokesperson wrote, “Missouri Vocational Enterprises (MVE) long has been fully prepared when dealing with hospital laundry. Our process has been approved by the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council. All offenders wear protective gear and have been educated and personally instructed on handling hospital laundry safely and employing techniques to mitigate risk.”

D.O.C. Director Anne Precythe spoke at Tuesday’s Governor briefing.

“Our focus is keeping the virus out of our prisons as well as a containment process if the virus get in,” Anne Precythe, D.O.C. Director.

She listed their actions, starting with:

March 12 suspended visitation

Suspended offender transfers between prisons

Screening of all incoming offenders at intake

Around the clock medical staff on site at all prisons

“We’ve modified some of our existing processes with COVID-19 to include identifying isolation cells, potentially a wing inside a housing unit, potentially an entire housing unit if needed,” said Precythe.

D.O.C. says the latest numbers in Missouri prisons are that no one is currently coronavirus positive. Precythe said one inmate tested positive after going to the hospital and is no longer positive. 13 inmates she said tested negative and four tests are pending.

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