Families of prisoners at Michigan’s Kinross Correctional Facility believed its remote location would spare it from a COVID-19 outbreak. Kinross had only one coronavirus case between March and October. On Oct. 28, officials transferred nine prisoners to Kinross from Marquette prison, several hours west, where COVID-19 was running rampant. Three weeks later, Kinross had its first major outbreak. More than 1,100 prisoners have now been infected, at least seven have died and more than 100 guards have fallen ill. In prisons around the U.S., COVID-19 outbreaks have followed transfers of prisoners or prison workers, reports the Associated Press and the Marshall Project. Many prison systems reduced or limited the number of prisoners moved due to the pandemic.
Most of those states lifted their restrictions by September and few prison systems heeded earlier lessons as the pandemic worsened this winter, worrying inmate families and correctional officers. There have been 275,000 coronavirus cases inside U.S. prisons. Prisons are a particular concern because social distancing is virtually nonexistent, prisoners sleep in close quarters and share bathrooms, and each prison has varying policies on who gets personal protective equipment. Oklahoma’s prisons reported few COVID-19 cases until officials closed several units because of budget cuts, transferring 4,500 prisoners from late July to September. Major outbreaks followed. In Amarillo, Tx., officers at the Neal Unit prison were proud the facility remained unscathed by the virus. That changed in September, when strict protocols were loosened by the warden. The virus soon took over, infecting hundreds of prisoners and killing a chaplain and a food service manager. Transfers have been linked to outbreaks in the federal prison system, Families and advocates say an outbreak at a New Jersey prison resulted from the transfer of 150 prisoners there from a facility in Ohio that’s been battling COVID-19 for months.