COVID-19 in Prison

Deerfield Correctional Center

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The latest DOC report shows an increase in the number of offenders testing positive for the novel coronavirus. There were a total of 147 incarcerated with a positive test, with nine of those in a hospital, compared to 116 and 8, respective, in the prior day’s report. Central Virginia Correctional Unit, the women’s minimum security unit in Chesterfield, showed the most increase, 23. The cumulative total of positive reports has increased from 139 to 170.  Fifty-three staff have tested positive.

The most worrisome aspect of this latest report is the occurrence of a positive test of an offender in the Deerfield complex for the first time. Deerfield Correctional Center is the facility in which DOC houses its geriatric and assisted living offender populations. It is not clear from the report whether this was an offender housed in the main facility or in the work center, which is a minimum security facility for female offenders and is a separate building from the main prison.

Although the numbers are rising, it is apparent that DOC is doing a good job in containing the virus. That is especially true in comparison with the experience in other states. The New York Times reports that, in one Ohio state prison, 1,828 inmates have tested positive. That is three-fourths of the facility’s population. At least 2,400 offenders in the Ohio prison have tested positive, comprising 20 percent of all the positive cases in the state. There have been seven inmate deaths from COVID-19. Closer to Virginia, 488 inmates in a state prison, more than half its population, in Goldsboro, N.C. have tested positive.

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7 responses to “COVID-19 in Prison

  1. Is DOC now testing all inmates? Those other states may have tested more widely.

    • Until recently, it was testing only symptomatic offenders. Last week, it started “point prevalence” testing, which includes asymptomatic offenders. That occurred in the Harrisonburg and Haynesville facilities, and was probably the reason for big jumps in the numbers at those locations. This week it will test everyone at Deerfield.

  2. “The New York Times reports that, in one Ohio state prison, 1,828 inmates have tested positive. That is three-fourths of the facility’s population. At least 2,400 offenders in the Ohio prison have tested positive, comprising 20 percent of all the positive cases in the state.”

    How much testing has Virginia done? We’re not exactly know for our broad based testing program.

  3. Dumb question Dick.

    If the prisoners are kept in cells 6 ft apart – very different from nursing homes, how does the infection spread so much more readily in prisons than the general population?

    • Three of the facilities with the most cases are dormitory facilities. Central Virginia and Harrisonburg are relatively small. The average daily populatioin last year at Central Va. was 178; in Harrisonburg, 108. The offenders are housed in dorm units with about 50 offenders each, in rows of double bunk beds. Social distancing is not feasible.

      Haynesville is larger, ADP of 928 last year. Its residential buildings consist of housing units that hold about 100 offenders each. There is a row of double bunk beds down each outside wall and two rows of single bunks down the middle. These bunks, single or double, are not separated by six feet. Even if they were, it would not be feasible to maintain a distance of six feet at all times–there are not enough showers, sinks, etc. or just space to move around to do that.

      The one major security facility in which there have been positive cases is Sussex II. Inmates are housed in double bunk cells. Each housing pod has a central area in which inmates can move around in outside their cell. The number of positive cases in that facility has stayed fairly stable. The last report showed 15.

      Deerfield, the facility that houses geriatric and assisted living offenders, is a dorm facility, much like Haynesville. The major difference most of the bunks are single, rather than double. Most of those inmates have trouble getting into a top bunk. Due to the nature of those inmates, I am sure that DOC management is worried about that facility.

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