Prisons

Jared Bennett

More than 10,000 people are currently held in Kentucky prisons, and nearly 8,000 have been infected with the coronavirus since the pandemic began. This infection rate of nearly 80% is among the worst nationally, according to a new report by the advocacy group Prison Policy Initiative.

The group graded state prison systems’ response to the coronavirus pandemic based on four categories: efforts to reduce the population of people in prisons, policies to keep the virus at bay, mortality and infection rates and vaccination reach. Kentucky scored higher than all but six states when it came to implementing policies such as suspending medical co-pays and making masks available, but the state earned an “F” for its overall coronavirus response.

Only one state prison system (Michigan) had a higher infection rate and two (New Mexico and New Jersey) had mortality rates than Kentucky, where the coronavirus has so far killed 48 incarcerated people. Six staff have also died, a figure that wasn’t part of the group’s assessment.

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Parts of the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women (KCIW) in Shelby County have been without power since Thursday, leaving all but two of the prison’s housing units without air conditioning.

Department of Corrections spokesperson Lisa Lamb says the outage is due to a main switch gear failure.

“We are working diligently to repair the system but due to its age and the availability of parts, the ETA on full repair is several days,” Lamb said, in an email to WFPL.

Generators are keeping the lights on at the facility, and visitation has been suspended until the power is restored.

This comes after a week of extreme heat in Kentucky, with heat advisories in effect most of the week, and temperatures up to 96 degrees on Thursday, when the outage began.

Bart Bomback’s wife is incarcerated at the KCIW.

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Kentucky’s Department of Corrections has spent more than $28 million trying to resolve problems accounting for how much good-time credit prison and jail inmates have earned since 2007.

The money has gone to an international auditing firm, KPMG, which has worked to straighten out Kentucky’s errors following a class-action lawsuit and court order for the state to do so.

The state could be on the hook for even more money if a court awards damages to inmates whose good-time credits weren’t recognized and who were held beyond what should have been their release dates.

During a legislative meeting on Thursday, Kentucky Justice Cabinet Secretary Mary Noble said she believes the end of the nearly decade-long lawsuit is in sight.

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People held in Kentucky prisons and juvenile justice centers will be allowed in-person visitors again beginning June 20, for the first time in more than a year.

Gov. Andy Beshear halted in-person visitation at state Department of Corrections and Department of Juvenile Justice facilities last March in an effort to keep out the coronavirus. Since then, visitation could only be conducted virtually. Still, nearly 8,000 adults held in correctional facilities have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began.

Keturah Herron, policy strategist with the ACLU of Kentucky, said resuming in-person visitation is “huge” for incarcerated people and their mental health.

Ryan Van Velzer

 

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said the state is monitoring about a dozen people who’ve travelled to countries with outbreaks of Ebola.

Beshear made the announcement during his coronavirus briefing Tuesday. Eleven people in Kentucky have traveled to either the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Guinea — both countries experiencing Ebola outbreaks. Beshear said health departments have been in contact with the travelers.

“And they assess their exposure risk, they educate them about what symptoms they might have, and they quarantine those at high risk for 21 days, though we have not had a single person in Kentucky that is at high risk,” Beshear said.

  

Facebook/Warren County Regional Jail

When the first coronavirus cases were reported last year, Warren County, Kentucky, Jailer Stephen Harmon knew there was going to be a COVID-19 outbreak in his jail. It was just a matter of when.  

“We tried our best to keep it from happening,” he said. “However with this many people in a fairly small spot, we knew that that was going to happen at some point so we responded to it as best we could.” 

New cleaning regimens and masks helped the jail prevent an outbreak until December, when Harmon’s prediction came true. More than 300 inmates and about 45 staffers tested positive before the outbreak was contained. 

 

  

Lake Cumberland District Health Department/Facebook

New COVID-19 cases in Kentucky have continued to decrease compared to recent weeks. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced 2,592 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday. The state’s positivity rate is 8.5%, continuing a recent downward trend.

Despite the decrease in new cases, Beshear reported 51 new deaths. Since the onset of the pandemic, 3,863 people have died from the virus in the commonwealth. 

Kentucky has vaccinated more than 385,000 people, and Beshear said the state is on track to vaccinate teachers faster than any other state. That could lead to more in-person learning, but Beshear said schools must have a virtual learning option as well.

  

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COVID-19 has struck inmates and staff at detention centers across Kentucky, including a recent outbreak at the Warren County Regional Jail.

There have also been outbreaks of the virus at the Allen and Barren county jails.

The Kentucky Department of Corrections has authority over state prisons and has managed outbreaks at the Green River Correctional Complex in Muhlenberg County and the Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women in Shelby County.

But county jails are under local control.


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The head of Tennessee’s prison system says the number of unfilled correctional officer positions has reached an “all-time high.”

Many facilities were already severely understaffed. Now, officials say the pandemic has made recruitment even harder.

The Department of Correction says it’s short more than 700 prison guards. That’s nearly 30% of all the correctional officer jobs statewide.

Commissioner Tony Parker says “not everyone’s cut out to work in corrections.”

TN Dept. of Corrections

Another round of mass testing has uncovered nearly 1,000 cases of the coronavirus at a Tennessee prison, with more results coming.

CoreCivic, which manages the facility, says nearly all are asymptomatic. But prisoners’ loved ones say they’re hearing a different story.

Jeannie Alexander gets lots of worried phone calls from people inside the South Central Correctional Facility. Even when a deadly virus isn’t spreading inside the walls, the former prison chaplain regularly hears from dozens of men and their loved ones.

In August, Alexander says, the callers started to sound even more anxious than normal.

 


J. Tyler Franklin

On the first Sunday in March, Teresa Johnson’s son called her from the Green River Correctional Complex with news that the facility was shutting down visitation due to the coronavirus.

Johnson didn’t think much of it back then. She had just visited her son earlier that day. The coronavirus seemed to be under control.

Since then it’s been a steady stream of worrisome news.

“My son would call and he would say ‘Mama, there’s more people here sick than what the news is saying,’” Johnson said.

J. Tyler Franklin

A group of women with ties to Kentucky’s Green River Correctional Complex is urging Gov. Andy Beshear to release more inmates amid the pandemic. A dozen women calling themselves “Prison Wives of Green River Correctional Complex” gathered outside the governor’s mansion and the Kentucky Capitol on Saturday afternoon, carrying homemade signs and wearing T-shirts with pictures of their loved ones who are behind bars.

As of May 22, 357 inmates and 50 staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus at Green River, a state prison in Muhlenberg County. Three men have died, although the state says the exact cause of death for one of those men is still pending.

Kentucky Department of Corrections

The number of COVID-19 cases in Muhlenberg County has spiked suddenly, following the recent mass testing at a state prison in Central City.

The Muhlenberg County Health Department reports 467 cases of COVID-19.

The total includes confirmed cases in the community, and at the Green Rive Correctional Complex, a state prison in Central City that can house close to 1,000 men. 

Alma Fink is nursing supervisor for the Muhlenberg County Health Department.

“The spike was reported suddenly because as the tests were done over the period of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of that week, they were sent to Gravity labs to be finalized, and those results started flowing in a couple of days after the tests were run," said Fink.


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Mass testing at two Tennessee prisons has uncovered nearly 2,000 cases of the coronavirus behind bars so far.

Officials have repeatedly said most inmates who have tested positive are not showing symptoms. But some health experts are cautioning prisons to prepare for that to change.

When the Tennessee Department of Correction first reported that 162 inmates at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex had tested positive for the coronavirus on Apr. 20, officials said the “vast majority” were asymptomatic.

 


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Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order last week releasing 186 inmates from state prisons who were vulnerable to the coronavirus. Advocates are calling on the state to take similar steps to protect juveniles who are incarcerated.

The ACLU of Kentucky has sent a letter to Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner LaShana Harris, asking her to release as many children as possible, and publicly share the department’s emergency response plan for addressing the pandemic.

“Even in the best of circumstances, infection control presents a significant challenge in these situations because incarcerated youth…often congregate in large groups and live [in] communal settings with shared bathrooms, dining areas, and more,” the letter reads.

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