COVID – 19 A Growing Concern in Jails Across WI

October 19, 2020 | covid-19, social justice, Wisconsin

Petition to Decarcerate WI to Save Lives From Covid-19: https://tinyurl.com/y4g5u4lo

https://bit.ly/2T7AtqN

_________________

By Sonia Vasquez, President Lakeshore’s United Visionaries – LUV,

https://lakeshoresunitedvisionaries.org/

On October 10th, 2020 I spoke with five inmates from Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution in Plymouth, WI after hearing reports about the prison’s conduct in their rise of Covid-19 cases. Kettle Moraine currently has the highest amount of cases of any prison within the state of Wisconsin. At the time of the interviews, the prison had a total positive active case amount of 406 and inactive positive amount of 295 for a total of 709. The prison has roughly a total of 1,110 inmates. 

Today (10/19/2020) Kettle Moraine has 262 active cases and 565 inactive positive cases, totaling to 827. 

These numbers can be seen here: https://doc.wi.gov/Pages/COVID19(Coronavirus)/COVID19TestingDashboard.aspx

A few media outlets have picked up the rise in concern for the positive case amounts in Kettle Moraine and some other prisons throughout the state. Fox 6 of Milwaukee reported on September 29th that they had received communication from the Department of Corrections saying, “all prisoners are in quarantine, those with symptoms are being treated, and those without are being monitored. Meals are delivered to the rooms of inmates. The prison is streaming movies to provide extra entertainment. There are also extra cleaning protocols, phones and showers are being used on a rotating bases.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePVtzqKY-5g) However, many family members of inmates and the inmates themselves have spoken out about this report from the DOC, claiming much of it to be false. 

With only being able to speak to each inmate for 20 minutes at a time, I tried to ask them all the same questions to get a good layout of what was happening in the prison in response to the outbreak. All inmates identities will remain anonymous.

All 5 inmates either had Covid-19 at the time of the interviews, had it and recovered, or tested positive with no symptoms.

The first question I asked brought on quite a bit of concern for the inmate’s mental health. When asked, “How are you feeling mentally and physically?” Those with active cases reported symptoms such as headaches, hot and cold flashes, and body aches. Mentally, many said they were frustrated, upset, and concerned for how the prison was dealing with the situation. Most of them often went straight into their largest concerns about the prison continually allowing positive inmates to be in a cell with negative inmates. One even saying he felt as through they were like an “experiment” and that the prison had given up on them, waiting for them all to eventually test positive. Alongside the worries about contracting Covid and feeling an overall sense of lack of control, the inmates reported not being able to go outside since around the end of September. The prison is on total lock down, only allowing them to move about their unit at certain times. They are not allowed classes, library access, outside access, and many reported that the DOC’s claim that they were showing extra movies was untrue. 

In regard to sanitation and hygiene, I was told that Kettle Moraine has one hand sanitizer on the unit of 120 people. This was reportedly put in the unit roughly a week prior to the interviews. The sanitizer is located near the bathrooms. They were given a cloth mask and a paper mask. When asked how the masks were cleaned, the inmates reported that they would need to do them with their laundry. However, if they do not have funds in their commissary, they aren’t able to purchase laundry soap. Bathrooms and common areas are often cleaned by inmates daily using what they have told me is Virex 2256. Many also reported that staff only recently started wearing masks when around the inmates. As stated by the DOC to Fox 6, inmates reported they are brought food to their cells, but there have been kitchen workers testing positive, presumably resulting in others being infected. 

When asked about personal hygiene, I was told that there are roughly 6 stalls, 6 urinals, 12 sinks, and 2 shower trees for the 120 person unit. The shower “trees” are a tree-like structure where around 6 people will circle around to shower at a given time. Inmates are able to access the bathrooms at certain times throughout the day due to the lock down. They do not have restrooms in their cells.

The inmates reported being tested recently on a weekly basis. Many said only people who were previously negative are tested. This brought on a concern for monitoring reinfection. Test results are given a few days later. Nurses administer the tests. When asked what treatments they are given when they are sick, many stated Tylenol and rest was what they were recommended. One inmate reported being able to get cough syrup to help with symptoms. 

When I asked the inmates what other opportunities for prevention they feel would help with the outbreak that aren’t happening, all of them stated they’d like to see that people with positive results not be kept in cells with negative people. When I asked if there is a possibility to do that currently, they said yes but it was not happening. 

The last question I asked them was what people can do to help those in the prison in regard to the outbreak and concern about its handling. All reported wanting to be heard, getting the word out, and urging Governor Evers to take action. 

Evers has not had a response to the prison outbreaks around the state. However, many organizations and families of inmates are speaking out. WISDOM, EXPO (Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing) and ROC have started a petition to Governor Evers. The petition states:

“WISDOM, EXPO & ROC Wisconsin are asking you to join our appeal to Governor Tony Evers of WI to: 

1) Grant Compassionate Release to elderly and ill people to get them out of our prisons

2) Release people being held on crimeless revocations and other low-level offenses (or non-offenses)

3) Take all other common-sense measures to dramatically reduce the prison population (i.e. calling on the WI Parole Commission to immediately review those people granted 6-12 month deferments within the last 9 months to reconsider their release, review cases where people are being held in need of programming that is offered in their communities, etc.) 

This is very literally a matter of life and death for many very vulnerable people.”

You can sign the petition here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScrDY86oe2k7QgIdeUGjsdTkPCxY1QJ6EO8y4OwQj5C-TZY1Q/viewform?vc=0&c=0&w=1&fbclid=IwAR1KNpnerwniCsvtNqUO4MzlKeYWTDKHq3ZC7q46doEaVlVwp3ju5swQBT0

Other ways you can help are by spreading the word, calling, emailing, writing your representatives and let them know you’d like to see more from them on this. 

Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution in Plymouth, WI
Rising Covid-19 Cases in Kettle Moraine Correctional Facility in Plymouth, WI raise questions about sanitation and mental health in our local jails.

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