Corrections advocacy groups concerned for inmates after 177 test positive for COVID-19 in Georgia prison

Coronavirus

NICHOLLS, Ga. (WSAV) – As COVID-19 continues to surge throughout the state of Georgia those locked away in prisons are still being hit hard by this disease. Corrections advocacy groups are helping families stay informed on what is being done to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Susan Sparks Burns is a corrections advocate who makes sure those locked away have a voice.

“The families are so concerned,” Burns said.

She runs the Facebook group ‘They Have No Voice.’ During the pandemic, she’s doing what she can to make sure loved ones are updated on any COVID-19 concerns.

“It’s bad enough when they can’t have visits to not just say mom I’m OK,” Burns said.

According to the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC), more than 750 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 including more than 270 staff members. 469 inmates and 181 staff members have recovered. Coffee Correctional is a private facility that has seen the most cases with 177. Burns said this didn’t have to happen.

“They didn’t do anything ahead of time to stop the staff and to educate the staff to talk about the importance of taking steps outside to keep from bringing COVID-19 inside,” Burns said.

The facility is run by CoreCivic. CoreCivic provided News 3 with an updated statement after the original publishing of this story saying, “The opinions shared by the advocacy groups highlighted in your story, are baseless allegations for current conditions, and the claims simply do not reflect the affirmative, proactive measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 our facility has been taking for months. We care deeply for our hard-working, dedicated employees and the inmates in our care, and we’re committed to their safety. We work hard to ensure that they have the necessary tools to feel safe doing their jobs every day.

CoreCivic’s website states that they have asked all staff to follow recommendations to prevent the spread following these guidelines below:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow the CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

CoreCivic went on to say, “COVID-19 has created extraordinary challenges for every corrections and detention system in America – public and private. At the same time, the state of Georgia on the whole is experiencing significant growth in COVID-19 cases. The health and safety of the individuals entrusted to our care and our staff is the top priority for CoreCivic and this commitment is shared by our partners at the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC). We have worked closely together with our government partners and state health officials to respond to this unprecedented situation appropriately, thoroughly and with care for the well-being of those entrusted to us and our communities.

CoreCivic said they have a Coronavirus Medical Action Plan at all of their facilities which they have been working on since January. Each facility has a medical team that will help with determining who may be at high risk for the virus when they enter a facility. Those inmates will be isolated if need be. All employees are screened upon entering a facility with a questionnaire including a temperature check.

In an ongoing effort to slow the spread of the virus CoreCivic said social distancing is in place along with routinely sanitizing and disinfecting surfaces and equipment. They say face masks have been provided to each inmate and staff member.

CoreCivic issued this statement regarding Coffee Correctional Facility on Monday, June 29:

In a continued effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, CoreCivic health services staff conducted targeted testing of the inmates residing in one of the housing units at Coffee Correctional Facility in Nicholls, GA, on Tuesday, June 23. This decision was due in part to several inmates from one of the pods within this housing unit showing symptoms that were consistent with COVID-19.

317 inmates at Coffee Correctional were tested. Meanwhile, Burns said in prisons it’s hard to social distance in close quarters.

“People who live in any corrections entity in the United States are never more than three feet away from someone else,” Burns said.

According to the GDC website, all facilities are operating on a modified movement process to ensure the safety and well-being of staff and inmates. All new arrivals and inmates returning from court will be administered a COVID-19 test. Inmates who show symptoms will be placed in an isolation unit while waiting for test results. Those not showing symptoms will be placed in a 14-day security quarantine while waiting for test results.

“The right thing to do clearly is to test everybody there,” Burns said.

The GDC recently announced that visitation at all facilities will remain suspended through August 12. A decision will be made later if that date needs to be pushed back.

The GDC says they have implemented the following guidelines at all state facilities, and has encouraged their private partner facilities to follow the same guidelines and recommendations.

A few of the measures being taken include:

  • Enhanced sanitation at all entry points to include additional hand sanitizer for staff and disinfecting shoe mats at all facilities for use by all individuals upon entering or exiting the facility
  • Screening protocols implemented to include attestation of no known illness prior to entry for all persons and temporal temperature screening at all entry points
  • Quantities of hand soap and hand sanitizer have been increased at all facilities
  • Enhanced sanitation and cleaning protocols at all facilities, and for all transportation vehicles, to include designating additional Sanitation Officers
  • Enhanced diagnostic intake screening for offenders entering GDC custody and returning from court http://gdc.ga.gov/content/cases
  • Suspended all facility tours until further notice
  • Waived $5.00 medical co-pay for offenders exhibiting COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms, effective March 13, 2020, until further notice
  • Suspended volunteer visits to facilities until further notice
  • Suspended visitation until further notice
  • Two (2) each, 2-ply sneeze/cough masks produced and distributed to all staff and offenders  (this is in addition to two single-ply masks that have already been distributed to staff and offenders), which have been mandated to be worn at all times
  • Treated all state facilities with chemical fogging as an added sanitation measure; will continue doing so

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