COVID-19 challenges inside Alabama prisons

Alabama

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — As the coronavirus cases spike across the state it’s also having a dramatic and deadly impact on the state’s prison system.

State capitol reporter Reshad Hudson sat down with Jeff Dunn, Alabama Department of Corrections commissioner.

Dunn says the COVID-19 infection rate inside Alabama’s prison system is similar to that of the community, the major difference is the people inside the prisons are confined to a smaller area. Throughout the pandemic, ADOC has experienced several deaths related to coronavirus.

“Every death that we have experienced has been deeply troubling and a tragedy,” Jeff Dunn said.

Commissioner Dunn says the department is following public health and CDC guidelines, but he calls them difficult.

“I mean, social distancing in a dorm of 150 inmates is very, very difficult, but that’s not to say that we don’t employ the protocols as best we can.”

We weren’t allowed inside the prisons, instead, we were given photos of social distancing and people wearing masks, in which many the mask were made by the inmates. The inmates have made over 100,000 masks for the ADOC system and also for other state agencies. According to prison officials, each inmate is given four cloth mask.

Commissioner Dunn says at the beginning of the pandemic testing inmates and the staff was a challenge, now he says they are able to beef up testing protocol.

“We started off testing inmates that were symptomatic. we then moved inmates that hadn’t met scheduled medical procedures once the hospitals open back up, and then now we’re testing inmates upon intake.”

ADOC has faced major criticism from groups like the SPLC, ACLU, and some lawmakers about their handling of COVD-19.

“I think if you compare the statistics, yes, we’ve had a rise just like it’s been in the community. But we feel like we’re holding our own and we’re going to continue to do that with everything we have.”

The commissioner says the pandemic further highlights the need for new prisons in Alabama and says he will continue to make his case to lawmakers.

A total of 139 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed among the inmate population since April 16 and 94 of which remain active, that’s according to ADOC. The department has set up a dashboard that breaks down the COVID-19 infection rate among its population.


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