The rapid transmission has left prisons across the country in a heightened state of fear, tension and mistrust. Some facilities have placed inmates with fever in solitary confinement, while some federal prisons and some public facilities have kept inmates locked up in their cells for more than 22 hours a day to restrict movement and possible transmissions. Still others ship prisoners who test positive to hastily established microprisoners.
But the biggest concern could be in facilities where little has been done to stop the spread of the virus.
“I am worried sick. If I understand that, I’m dead, “said Thomas Balsiger, 67, an inmate from La Tuna federal prison in Texas who has a history of coronary heart disease. He said there were too few protections in place for detainees and that guards did not always wear masks.
“This is a completely irresponsible endangerment,” he said.
The Times has identified at least 41 groups of two or more cases of prison-centered coronavirus. In addition to Cook County, other major clusters include the Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson, Michigan, which is linked to over 100 cases; the Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois, linked to more than 90 cases; and the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, where at least 58 inmates and staff have tested positive.
In New York, which suffered the full brunt of the epidemic in the United States, more than half of the prison population was quarantined on Wednesday as the virus continued to spread in the prisons of Rikers Island and in the boroughs neighbors. The Correctional Department said that 287 inmates, 441 correctional staff and 75 health care workers had tested positive, and nearly 1,600 inmates had been released in an attempt to reduce the toll.
The disease killed seven correctional workers and one inmate in New York. Over 10% of correctional officers had to quarantine.
In Chicago, Sheriff Dart admitted that his attempts to stop the spread of the virus, including the release of hundreds of detainees accused or convicted of non-violent crimes, have failed.