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Alabama prisons see hundreds of COVID cases among incarcerated, staff

There were 204 new confirmed cases among prisoners and 185 self-reported cases among prison staff last week.

(STOCK)

A rash of new confirmed COVID cases among the incarcerated and prison staff in 22 of 25 Alabama prisons and work release centers last week is evidence that the virus that’s surging elsewhere in the state is active behind prison fences. 

There were 204 new confirmed cases among prisoners and 185 self-reported cases among prison staff, the Alabama Department of Corrections said in an update Tuesday. 

Alabama’s overcrowded prisons, most of which are set up like dormitories instead of cells for one or two prisoners, have proven to be good hosts for the deadly virus. 

Easterling Correctional Facility, which accounts for 26 of those latest COVID cases, was at 164 percent capacity in September, the latest monthly statistical report released by the Alabama Department of Corrections. Bullock Correctional Facility, which has 19 of those cases, was at 154 percent capacity, and Donaldson Correctional Facility, which had 13 cases, was at 150 percent capacity. 

“Newly identified positive case(s) may be symptomatic or asymptomatic. All existing quarantine protocols held in-place or newly implemented as recommended by the ADOC’s contracted State Medical Director are being maintained at each facility where newly identified positive inmate(s) are currently housed,” ADOC said in a statement. 

In a response to APR‘s questions about the department’s policies around testing incarcerated persons, Simpson wrote that those who exhibit symptoms of COVID are tested in accordance with CDC guidelines “and, if they return a positive test result, are placed on level-three quarantine (i.e., medical isolation).”

“Additionally, inmates are tested upon intake into our system and prior to transfer or other movement outside their assigned facility,” Simpson said. “Further, the ADOC may test larger swaths of the inmate population at a given facility if recommended by relevant medical experts.” 

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An additional 26 incarcerated people have been vaccinated against COVID, ADOC said in the statement, bringing the total number of vaccinated prisoners to 12,125 of the approximately 18,000 total, although prison populations are fluid. 

No other prison staff have been vaccinated, ADOC said, bringing the total number of staff vaccinated by the department to 882. ADOC noted that the department doesn’t report the number of staff who were vaccinated by community providers and outside of the department’s own vaccination efforts, however. 

ADOC reports there have been 2,227 cases and 70 deaths among incarcerated people, and 1,340 cases and three deaths among prison staff. 

ADOC was slow to begin testing incarcerated people for COVID-19, and slow to begin administering vaccinations. Alabama prisons had the fifth-highest number of COVID deaths per capita in the nation in Sept. 2021, according to a joint study by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press, which hasn’t been updated since Sept. 2021.

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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