“We dreaded this day;” Hundreds of inmates test positive for COVID-19 at correctional center

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DANVILLE, Ill. (WCIA) — New numbers released by the Illinois Department of Corrections show 30% of Danville Correctional Center’s inmates are currently battling COVID-19.

“We dreaded this day,” Education Justice Project‘s Rebecca Ginsburg said. “We thought it was likely to come eventually. The warden, especially at Danville Correctional Center, has done a good job of delaying this day. But the day has arrived. The numbers are increasing, doubling – more than doubling on a weekly basis.”

As of Wednesday, December 16, 119 inmates currently had COVID-19. Exactly a week later, that number became 447. 50 staff members also currently have COVID-19. An additional 72 inmates and 68 staff members have recovered.

IDOC released a statement detailing the strategies the department has deployed to try to slow the spread of the virus. Those steps included implementing a mass testing plan that went into effect December 16. Previously, only a little more than 300 tests had been conducted on inmates (including some with symptoms). Roughly 1,100 tests had been conducted on staff as well. Those numbers now stand at 2,237 tests for inmates to date, as well as 1,495 for staff members.

“… Danville has designated several isolation wings specifically for COVID-19 positive cases and quarantine zones for individuals who have been exposed.  A designated deep cleaning crew has been created to systematically sterilize the facility every week…”

Illinois Department of Corrections

Some inmates’ families have reached out to WCIA voicing concerns about IDOC assigning other inmates to be a part of the deep cleaning crew.

Tatiana Soto, whose husband Felix Padilla is housed there, recalled speaking to a staff member at Danville Correctional Center about the cleaning crew and asking if government workers were being called in.

“She says ‘no, we make sure that inmates suit up,'” Soto said. “And I was like, ‘you’re having inmates that are healthy, cleaning COVID cells, and then wondering why this outbreak is spreading so rapidly?'”

Both Padilla and his cousin, Jordan Rivera, tested positive for COVID-19. Rivera’s sister, Kassandra, believes her brother could have contracted the virus through his role as a cleaning crew member. She’s worried about his safety.

“I just want to get them some help,” she said. “Something, they have to do something in there.”

Ginsburg said she’s also concerned about the mental health impacts of COVID-19 in prisons. She said the mood this holiday season has been anxious in the facility.

“It’s a very, very extended lockdown with the added pressure,” Ginsburg said, citing the knowledge of a deadly pandemic. “There’s also the anxiety and the worry and the stress of not knowing [combined] with not being able to support your family on the outside during a time when the family members themselves are subject to the pandemic.”

She said as wards of the state, inmates deserve access to physical and mental health care.

“Let me be clear what a sentence of penal incarceration involves,” Ginsburg said. “It involves being shut off from society into a confined space for a set period of time, in order to – according to American common law practice – rehabilitate yourself. It does not involve being further punished through illness, through sickness and through neglect. The idea that people who are incarcerated deserve to have to suffer through a pandemic is atrocious. And it really betrays a lack of understanding of what the correctional system is supposed to be about.”

To date, 59 inmates and 1 staff member have died in state correctional centers since the start of the pandemic. There have been no deaths reported from COVID-19 at the Danville Correctional Center.

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