Alabama Prisons

Prisons Close Doors to Many Incoming Inmates Because of COVID-19

(Source: Mary Scott Hodgin,WBHM)

Stepping up its response to one of its employees’ testing positive for the COVID-19 virus, the Alabama Department of Corrections said Friday its prisons will not take in any “new inmates from county jails for the next 30 days.” Others subject to the moratorium include those who have violated terms of their parole or probation and those ordered back to prison by a court.

In a news release, the department said it would “continue to receive inmates with severe medical or mental health conditions, subject to the usual review process by the Department’s Office of Health Services.” It said it would screen those inmates to ensure they have no symptoms of the COVID-19 virus.

Because inmates already in the state’s prisons are having to adjust to the COVID-19 protocols corrections is putting in place, the department said it was extending the time eligible inmates get to spend outside in prison courtyards as well as the time that inmates can get snacks.

“Apparently this is something they planned in response to possible TB outbreaks that have happened in the past,” said state Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster.

The department also said its correctional academy in Selma, where it trains classes of new correctional officers, “will continue operations at this time,” but it said it had canceled a correctional officer recruiting session scheduled for Friday at Bibb Correctional Facility. Other recruiting sessions for aspiring correctional officers are scheduled throughout the year at prisons throughout the state, but it is uncertain whether those sessions will take place.

The prisons have long been understaffed, and the issue of staffing surfaced in a still-active lawsuit seeking to improve mental health treatment in the prison system.

At this time, no Alabama prison inmate has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, but state officials fear it is just a matter of time before that happens. At present, according to Ward, the state’s prisons house more than 22,000 inmates, about a third of whom are over 60 years of age. Ward said about 2,100 inmates with state prison sentences are in the state’s county jails.

According to figures for December, the latest data report available on the corrections website, slightly more than 21,000 inmates were in the prisons, but more than 7.000 inmates sentenced to prison terms in the state were housed in county jails, federal prisons, other state prisons and other facilities.

On Thursday, the Corrections Department said an administrative employee at one of its facilities had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. In making the announcement, the department said anyone within the department who had been in direct contact with the employee was “in self-quarantine” for two weeks and would be monitored by the Alabama Department of Public Health.

In response to that positive test, corrections officials put other measures into place, including temperature screening of all staff before entering the facilities and suspending visitation, general legal visits and work-release and work-center programs.

Around the country, a number of inmates or employees at prison systems have tested positive for COVID-19, according to news reports.