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Portrait Of An Outbreak: How Coronavirus Spread In The Prince George's County Jail

People wearing protective masks leave the Cook County jail complex on April 09, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
People wearing protective masks leave the Cook County jail complex on April 09, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The Prince George’s County jail in Maryland allegedly puts people with COVID-19 into cells dirty with body fluids. Staff throw supplies through the door. Many people at the jail haven’t been convicted. In fact, they haven’t even had their trials yet. So now, they’re taking the jail to court.


Alfonso Diantignac, formerly incarcerated person in Prince George’s County jail. He contracted COVID-19 while in jail and was released in May.

Katie Chamblee-Ryan, senior attorney and coordinator of the Prosecutor Project. (@kchambleeryan)

Aisha Braveboy, state’s attorney for Prince George’s County. (@SABraveboy)

Marguerite Lanaux, supervising attorney for the Prince George’s County Public Defenders office.

Read: A Twitter Thread On The Outbreak Inside Prince George’s County Jail

Read: Statement From The Prince George’s County Department of Corrections

“The Prince George’s County Department of Corrections (PGDOC) currently has no inmates who are positive for COVID-19. The claims being made against the facility are false and entirely meritless. We look forward to the court addressing both the merits of the case and the willful falsehoods being disseminated to the public by the plaintiffs.

“Since the start of the pandemic, the positivity rate in the facility has remained lower than that of the county. During the week of May 19, PGDOC completed universal testing of all inmates, which resulted in six positive cases out of 521 total tests. This was a positivity rate of 1.1 percent. Every inmate who enters the facility is tested and those already in custody are checked daily for signs and symptoms. If symptoms are displayed then the individual is administered a test. We also allow those who wish to be tested — whether they’re displaying COVID-19-related symptoms or not — the opportunity to do so in the medical unit.

“Approximately 335 individuals have been tested since the universal testing in May. Two of these individuals, both of whom were in intake, tested positive and were isolated. In total from the start of the pandemic, the Department of Corrections has had 26 total positive cases out of 871 tests.

“The low positivity rate is a result of numerous actions taken by PGDOC beginning in early February. Along with being the first correctional facility in the State of Maryland to screen inmates for COVID-19, the facility has reduced the total number of inmates, suspended visitation and volunteer services, restricted inmate movement throughout the facility, stopped group roll calls for officers, retained a contractor to deep clean the jail on a regular basis, provided free soap, disinfectant spray and hand sanitizer in common areas, worked with our vendor to allow three, free 10-minute phone calls per day, waived the $4 fee for medical call visits, checked temperatures of all employees entering the jail and consistently shared COVID-19 related information with inmates.

“During a June 22 court proceeding in the lawsuit, District Judge Paula Xinis expressed pleasure with the Department of Corrections’ actions to keep inmates safe, specifically complimenting PGDOC on the universal testing of all inmates. A court appointed health inspector, Dr. Carlos Franco, also visited the facility for an inspection in May before submitting a detailed report of his findings to the court. He wrote that the facility implemented mitigating interventions, according to CDC guidelines, including halting all group activities, staggering recreation time, limiting the number of people out of their cells at the same time, providing inmates with masks, isolating sick inmates, making cleaning supplies available and providing education materials regarding COVID-19 to inmates. He also described the jail as clean and found no evidence of inhumane living conditions.”

From The Reading List

Gasping For Justice: “The Uncontrolled Outbreak” — “We don’t have cell phone footage inside Prince George’s County jail. We have sworn statements. Of people fighting for their lives. This is their lawsuit, reimagined.”

New Yorker: “Punishment by Pandemic” — “Prisoners often speak of a fear of adapting to incarceration to such a degree that they become institutionalized, losing their individual agency.”

Washington Post: “Michael Cohen to be released from prison after judge sides with claims of retaliation” — “A federal judge on Thursday ordered President Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen released from prison to home confinement, saying the Justice Department’s move to take him back into custody earlier this month was retaliation for writing a book about his former boss.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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