Texas Prisons And The Coronavirus: What You Or A Loved One Need To Know
Carlee Sutera Student, Rutgers Law School
Barbara Rosner from Pixabay
As of June 25, 113,456 inmates in Texas have been tested for COVID-19.
7,653 inmates have tested positive, 6,625 have recovered, and there are 72 confirmed COVID related deaths.
With cases on the rise, it is important to know what state and local governments are doing to protect vulnerable populations, such as prison inmates. In prison, it's nearly impossible to stay six feet away from others. Masks are hit or miss. Here is what you need to know about Texas prisons and the Coronavirus:
Testing is an essential part of keeping people safe. In prisons where inmates are kept in close quarters, testing and isolation is the main way to keep COVID-19 form spreading.
In March the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) began testing inmates who had symptoms of COVID-19 and medically isolating those who tested positive. TDCJ has also claimed that prisoners who have COVID-19 infections are only taken out of their cells to shower. They do so in small groups with others who have tested positive for COVID-19.
But prisoners are telling a different story. Many says their symptoms are being ignored, and that sick or exposed inmates are being placed in cells with healthy inmates.
Inmates at Huntsville’s Wynne Unit even claim that men who have been separated from one another are still being taken to the showers together in large groups.
In mid-May the TDCJ announced that it was beginning to implement self-administered COVID-19 testing in all prisons.
Every state inmate was required to watch a tutorial on how to administer the cheek swab tests.
The TDCJ said that the tests are the same FDA approved test kits being used by the United States Air Force and clinical studies suggest that they have equivalent sensitivity to nasal swabs that require a medical professional.
The goal of this mass testing to be able to identify and isolate asymptomatic inmates in order to further prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Besides testing and isolation, the TDCJ announced other policies in hopes to limit the spread of COVID-19.
These policies included limiting staff travel. The TDCJ suggested that prison staff should limit any unnecessary domestic traveling and that agency travel should be limited unless it is an absolute necessity.
Staff wishing to travel internationally must have their trip approved by their division director, and if approved, there may be a delay in their return to work after returning to the US.
The TDCJ also advises that all staff who feel ill or have a fever stay home.
If a staff member begins to feel ill at work, and they are assigned to an area where the Coronavirus has been confirmed, they will be required to complete the TDCJ COVID-19 Screening.
Based on the completion of the screening, if an employee appears to be ill, they will be sent home and will be required to submit a physician’s note stating the employee is clear of any symptoms of COVID-19 upon returning to work.
Beginning on March 13, In accordance with Governor Abbott’s declaration, the TDCJ temporarily suspended visitation at all facilities statewide.
During the pandemic, concerned family members and activists are calling for the state of Texas to reduce its prison population in order to control the spread of COVID-19.
Since the pandemic started, the prison population has dropped from 140,000 to about 133,000 due to parole releases and the current freeze on state prisons taking inmates from county jails.
Public information officer Raymond Estrada said that there were about 11,000 offenders, as of April, who had been approved for parole.
People are worried that the parole process for some inmates has been slowed due to the fact that some parole programs have been put on hold because of the pandemic.
The TDCJ has stated that it will not be rethinking the release process of inmates as the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a nonprofit organization focusing on lowering prison populations, has requested.
Rep. James White, R-Woodville, chairman of the House Corrections Committee has stated that some parole programming has been delayed during the pandemic, but is adamant that the process must play out according to state law.
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