Prisons Go on Lockdown As Coronavirus Spreads Behind Bars

From federal and state prisons to county jails, the virus takes a toll

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Some 15 state prisons in Texas are on lockdown because of confirmed coronavirus cases, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced Wednesday.

The move came one day after a 72-year-old inmate died of the virus at the Telford Unit in New Boston, which is near Texarkana.

The restriction means only staff will be allowed in and out of the prisons and inmates will remain isolated.

Four employees and seven inmates at the facility have tested positive for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the Dallas County jail is also taking extra precautions after 29 inmates and eight staffers have fallen ill with the virus.

In Tarrant County, nobody has tested positive but Sheriff Bill Waybourn said a small number of inmates and employees are showing possible symptoms and are awaiting test results.

"So far so good,” Waybourn said in an online video interview. “As of this moment, we don't have any. But we're realists. We believe it's when and not if."

Waybourn said the jail is segregating all new inmates for 10 to 14 days and taking every precaution.

"We have suspended lots of activities in the jail that goes on like visitation” and even inmate card games, he said.

Concern about coronavirus in correctional institutions also extends to Federal Medical Center Carswell, the only federal prison hospital for women in the country.

One of the 1,600 inmates there has already tested positive, according to a representative of the American Federal of Government Employees, the union which represents federal prison guards.

Six guards at the facility are showing symptoms and awaiting results at home.

"It's so many people in a confined space I don't know what's going to happen. It will just overwhelm us at some point,” longtime guard and former union vice president Chris Beasley said.

He added he’s worried about getting sick himself and infecting his family.

"You bring the inmate in, you bring it to the prison, and we bring it to the community,” Beasley said. "We don't want to see staff and inmates getting sick because, being a medical center, it would be devastating. It would be like a nursing home on steroids."

In a statement, the Bureau of Prisons said it is doing everything it can to stop the virus from spreading including issuing protective gear to guards and stopping most inmate transfers.

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