Coronavirus sickens over 1,000 Wisconsin inmates

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Three Wisconsin correctional facilities are facing coronavirus outbreaks after a massive increase in positive tests. COVID-19 cases are on the rise in most states, with the Midwest being hit especially hard.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, over 2,542 inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus since March. However, the last three weeks have seen an aggressive uptick in cases. As of Tuesday, the facilities had at least 1,055 active cases, with 1,993 inmates in quarantine. Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution and Oshkosh Correctional Institution have been battling two large outbreaks, with 352 and 347 active cases, respectively. The Racine Correctional Institution and Sturtevant Transitional Facility also reported 124 active cases among the prisoners. 

The department does not list reported cases for staffers on its website, and department officials did not immediately respond to CBS News’ request for comment. 

In response to the outbreaks, the ACLU’s Wisconsin chapter filed an open records request for the state’s department of corrections to disclose information on coronavirus-related hospitalizations and deaths — the department’s health dashboard currently does not list either. The news comes after the Associated Press reported that two inmates died after contracting the virus at the Dodge Correctional Institution.

In addition to transparency, the ACLU is also seeking information on how prisoners are kept separate, mask availability, testing rates, and screening measures. “To date the DOC has not been transparent and has only shared with the public the number of persons who have tested positive, with no other information,” Wisconsin ACLU staff attorney Tim Muth to CBS News. “Wisconsin is in the midst of one of the worst surges of coronavirus cases in the nation. As Wisconsin hospitals fill to overflowing, we need to know how much burden the failure to control the disease in prison is putting on the system.”

With social distancing nearly impossible, correctional facilities have emerged as hotspots across the country, especially in states with increasing cases. According to UCLA’s COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project, there have been over 149,000 confirmed inmate cases since COVID-19 began, with over 1,000 inmate deaths nationwide. In Wisconsin, the state’s additional hotspot statues could also spell danger for inmates. According to Johns Hopkins University, the state broke a record for most confirmed cases in a single day when it reached 3,279 new cases this week. With the 30th highest death count in the country, Wisconsin leads states in new cases per capita. 

“The people of the Wisconsin are entitled to understand what additional burdens are being placed on our hospital systems as a result of the failure by Governor (Tony) Evers and Secretary (Kevin) Carr to take serious actions to reduce the populations in Wisconsin prisons and to release the elderly and medically vulnerable who are most at risk,” Chris Ott, the executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, said in a news release. “Since the governor’s emergency declaration in March, we have been urging the state to act, and now we are seeing the consequences of not acting.”

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