prison system

A former state prisoner was released from William S. Key Correctional Center in Fort Supply, Oklahoma on April 22, before the state prison agency knew he had tested positive for COVID-19.

The infected man was tested just two days before his release, following a new Department of Corrections initiative that launched on April 20 to test every prisoner before their release date. According to a news release, the man had no symptoms before he left the prison.

In Arizona, a woman behind bars at the Perryville women's prison reports hearing coughing echoing through the warehouse-style dorms all night.

In New Jersey, an immigrant detainee being held in the Essex County jail has been put on quarantine cleaning duty even though he's been sick. He fears he's spreading the coronavirus.

And at the Etowah County jail in Alabama, Karim Golding, an immigrant detainee who's fighting deportation to Jamaica, says he's been feeling short of breath and worries he got coronavirus from the guards or new detainees coming in and out.

Flickr / Wesley Fryer

A nonprofit news organization reports the number of COVID-19 cases in U.S. prisons more than tripled in one week, but Oklahoma still counts only nine employees and two prisoners as testing positive.

Advocates are demanding state officials in Virginia release as many youth as safely possible from a juvenile detention facility after an outbreak of the coronavirus.

Officials announced 25 young people held in state custody have tested positive for COVID-19. That amounts to about one-eighth of the population at the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center, outside Richmond.

A state prison has become a hot spot of the COVID-19 outbreak in Ohio, with at least 1,828 confirmed cases among inmates — accounting for the majority of cases in Marion County, which leads Ohio in the reported infections. Ohio officials say an aggressive testing program is responsible for the large number.

The large cluster of cases was found through mass testing of everyone at the Marion Correctional Institution; 109 staff members were also positive. No COVID-19 deaths have been reported at the prison.

At the end of a workday, Cheryl Porter pulls into the gravel drive of her one-bedroom travel trailer in Brandon, Mississippi.

"I actually want to get rid of this one and get a bigger one," Porter says. "I want a two bedroom 'cause when Michael gets home, Lord willing."

Michael, her 29-year-old son, has been incarcerated since he was a teenager on several felony charges, including burglary. He's due for release in 2022.

"If he gets to come home alive," she says.

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread, prisons and jails remain some of the most vulnerable places for its transmission.

New York City jails are dealing with an outbreak of their own: The Department of Corrections told NPR it's dealing with 364 confirmed cases among inmates and already has two deaths as of April 16.

Rikers Island Jail is the city's most infamous facility. Prisoner Daryl Campbell is currently under quarantine after another inmate came down with a high fever.

Oklahoma state prisons began releasing 111 prisoners Thursday by order of Governor Kevin Stitt.

Prompted by a legislative committee question, Department of Corrections director Scott Crow said the releases aren’t related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Although this is at a time when we’re looking at early releases and trying to manage our population to accommodate this crisis their releases are not directly related to COVID," Crow said.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Prison is one of the most risky places to be during a viral pandemic. Doctors around the country who are familiar with prison and jail environments say prison conditions will only accelerate the coronavirus’ spread.

They’re calling on states to release prisoners who aren’t public safety threats.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s office mistakenly announced that 404 state prisoners would be released on Thursday by order of the governor.

Many of the prisoners applied to have their prison sentences shortened in response to a recent law change that reduced the punishment for their crimes.

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