Alabama Prisons

First COVID- 19 Case in a Prison Reported

Runners, inmates who work at the prison, walk the halls of Donaldson Correctional Facility. (Source: Cameron Carnes)

The first confirmed case of COVID-19 has surfaced in the Department of Corrections, the department stated in a news release issued this afternoon.

The department said the person who tested positive was an administrative employee, not an inmate. Citing privacy and security reasons, the department did not disclose the individual’s name or workplace.

“We will closely monitor inmate health at all facilities,” the department stated. Meanwhile, it added, “All individuals within the Department who have been in direct contact with the individual who tested positive are now in self-quarantine for a 14-day period, and will be monitored by the Alabama Department of Public Health for signs and symptoms due to direct exposure.”

“The ADOC has been actively preparing for the spread of COVID-19 throughout Alabama, which allowed us to quickly put in place necessary preventive measures and protocols to best protect our staff and inmate population,” said Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn. “Unfortunately, no one is immune to this virus. The physical state of our facilities and our crowded inmate populations are additional challenges we are working diligently to address as we navigate the evolving COVID-19 outbreak. The entire Department is focused on reducing the potential impact of this disease on our correctional system, while maintaining critical operational, rehabilitative, health and mental health services.”

The department said it can test inmates but only when the state public health department “approves a physician’s order.”

“Systemwide preventative measures in place include temperature screening of all staff prior to entering the facilities, increased sanitation of facilities with CDC-recommended cleaning supplies, and the suspension of visitation, general legal visits and work-release and work-center programs,” the department news release stated. In addition, it said it is “minimizing internal transfers of inmates on a case-by-case basis.”

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, one of the most knowledgeable legislators on the prison system, said the system’s facilities now house more than 22,000 inmates. In a “rough estimate,” Ward said about 28 percent of the inmates are over 60 years of age.

Asked, via text whether he was worried about COVID-19 hitting the prison system in a big way, Ward  said, “Yeah, and I’m not sure how you deal with that. Every state has the same issue. We have stopped all visitations and are screening all officers, but I think it is a matter of time.”

Several months ago, the Governor’s Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy issued a series of recommendations for the prison system – among them a recommendation that the Legislature boost the prison system’s appropriation for fiscal 2021, which begins on Oct. 1. That increase is necessary, the group stated in its report, so the prison system can address “specific issues,” among them, medical services.

A few judges and county jails have released inmates deemed to be a low-risk to the public, since jails aren’t designed for social distancing and one inmate who has come in contact with an infected person could quickly spread the virus to the entire population.

The prisons have not been releasing inmates, and the state has halted all pardons and paroles hearings.