Alabama Prisons

Third Prison Inmate Died With COVID-19

St. Clair Correcrtional Facility (Source: Tom Gordon)

A third Alabama prison inmate has died after testing positive for the coronavirus, the Department of Corrections announced today.

Clarence Shepherd, 80, was at St. Clair Correctional Facility, where he was serving life without parole for a murder conviction in Jefferson County and life without parole for murder and escape convictions in Autauga County.

All three inmates to have died after testing positive for the coronavirus have been at the St. Clair prison. The others were William Herschell Moon, 74, who died June 3, and was described as having “a known history of chronic, debilitating disease,”  and Dave Thomas, 66, who died April 16 and was described as “terminally ill.”

According to a corrections news release, Shepherd was tested for COVID-19 after showing “signs and symptoms of the virus.” After a positive test result, he was transferred to a local hospital because “he was considered high-risk due to multiple, chronic debilitating diseases.” He died early this morning.

The St. Clair prison, built in the early 1980s, housed 1,108 inmates in March, 162 more than its original design capacity. Overall, the prison system housed nearly 21,000 inmates in March, and most of its facilities have more inmates than they were built to hold.

In late March, a group of law school faculty members and former prosecutors wrote Gov. Kay Ivey, urging her to have the state Board of Pardons and Paroles hold expedited hearings to reduce the risk of COVID-19 to Alabama’s prison population. Ivey subsequently issued an order allowing parole hearings to resume in mid-May.

Terry Abbott, communications director for the state Bureau of Pardons and Paroles, said the board has held about 350-400 parole hearings since resuming them. According to a tally of numbers from the bureau website, the board has granted 41 paroles. The board is slated to hold 112 parole hearings next week, according to the website.

Overall, 229 Alabama prison system inmates have been tested for COVID-19, 28 have tested positive, and nine have recovered, according to corrections data. One hundred nineteen prison employees have tested positive, and 29 have recovered. Corrections does not test its employees for COVID-19 and it says cannot legally require them to be tested.

The first positive case of COVID-19 in the prison system, that of an employee, was reported March 19.