THE INVESTIGATORS: Advocates sound alarm over rampant coronavirus cases inside La. women’s prison

Updated: May. 4, 2020 at 9:29 PM CDT
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BAKER, La. (WAFB) - The 9News Investigators have discovered an alarming number of coronavirus cases inside the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women (LCIW). Now, advocates say something must be done. A small group recently gathered outside the LCIW facility in Baker hoping to send a big message to those in charge.

While the coronavirus continues its spread outside the walls, inside the prison, it’s running rampant. According to numbers from the Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC), the female prison is far ahead of every other prison in the state with 192 positive cases of coronavirus. Of that number, 126 (more than 65% of those infected) are not showing symptoms. As of Monday, May 4, there are 299 cases of coronavirus in prisons statewide and LCIW accounts for around 64% of those infections.

“If they do not take action, yes, a lot of the women possibly will pass in there,” said Ivy Mathis.

This is personal for Mathis. Having served time behind bars herself, she says prison is the last place you would want to spend time riding out this pandemic. She and others in the small group of protesters now hope to bring attention to the issue after one woman has died and they say at least one other is fighting for her life.

“If we don’t give attention to this crisis on the inside of prison, it’s not going to be good and the numbers are showing this,” Mathis added.

Cammie Maturin is the president and co-founder of the HOPE Foundation (Helping Other People Evolve). She says the ongoing crisis is concerning.

“It’s hard to explain why, but there’s a problem here,” said Maturin.

Maturin says she’s worried about whether the virus is a priority inside the facility because she says she has gotten flooded with complaints from those locked up right now.

“The Department of Corrections, their job is to keep these people safe and they are not because they are continuously infecting each other over and over and over again,” said Maturin.

ONE-STOP-SHOP: Everything you need to know related to COVID-19

DOC spokesman, Ken Pastorick, tells WAFB they’re certainly doing their job and inmate safety is a top priority for the department. He says they’re working to keep the inmates safe during the pandemic. He outlined their safety measures in the following statement:

“The department has provided each inmate with two cloth masks, which are cleaned and sanitized each day.”

He also says inmates have gotten more soap and hand sanitizer is available at the prisons.

Maturin believes overcrowding is the main issue and says because most of those people now confirmed to have COVID-19 at LCIW are not showing symptoms, fighting the virus is even more difficult.

“There’s more that needs to be done,” said Maturin. “That is very disturbing because those who are asymptomatic are just as contagious, so those who are running around there not knowing that they’re sick are the ones that’s actually spreading it.”

In April, DOC unveiled a plan to reduce the number of inmates housed at state prisons and local jails by conducting furlough reviews. Nonviolent offenders nearing the end of their sentence and who meet certain criteria could be eligible for temporary medical release. That comes out to about 1,100 inmates eligible in local jails and roughly 100 eligible inside state prisons. At the same time, the Governor’s Office says he has signed seven commutations since the start of the pandemic.

As advocates continue to push for transparency and action, some fear it’s too little, too late, but hope something can be done.

“It’s important because incarcerated individuals are forgotten and there is very little to nothing they can do to protect themselves,” said Mathis.

“Some people may see them as thugs or as whatever word you want to call them. These are human beings,” added Maturin.

DOC keeps track of the number of infections across each of the state’s prisons and updates those numbers everyday at 11 a.m. Anyone who wants to take a look at the data can find it here.

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